Aug. 3 was a major transition day in the world of collegiate lacrosse. That Wednesday afternoon, the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (G-MAC) announced that men’s lacrosse would become the organization’s 20th sponsored sport for its fifth season.
As the nine-team ECAC Division II Lacrosse League disbanded, several moves occurred that the G-MAC claims could result for its seven schools in “as good of (a) chance as any to claim [the] label of (its) first national champion.”
After the NCAA redefined regional lines, ensuring that its North and South regions had an equitable number of teams, they split in the ECAC, leading to its dissolution and the G-MAC filling a void for the former conference members.
Last Thursday, the conference took its first preseason step for the new sport and tabbed Chris Ryan’s Mercyhurst squad, also a new member of the North region, as the Under Armour preseason favorites, taking four of the seven first-place votes and 41 points overall.
The Lakers carry a No. 7 ranking from the Dec. 16 Inside Lacrosse Face-Off Yearbook poll and No. 6 in the USILA/Nike Coaches’ Poll into their first G-MAC campaign they join the conference as one of two affiliate members and the first of six consecutive former ECAC schools on the preseason poll.
The three existing and two transitionary G-MAC members struggled in 2016, but fell victim to one of the toughest conferences in Division II.
Aside from fellow affiliate Seton Hill, which went 11-4 last year, only Lake Erie finished above .500 with a 9-5 record and used a 6-5 record against winning opponents to claim the 2-seed in the conference tournament.
But the 10th-ranked Storm, who scored 22 goals in their previous contest, were upset by third-seed, and then-No. 20 Lindenwood, 8-6 on Tullio Field as the Lions advanced to the title game for the second straight year.
The Storm netted eight All-Conference selections, including Specialist of the Year Bret Swan. The freshman from Acton, Ontario converted 58.4 percent of his 296 faceoffs, a figure that ranked second in the conference and 15th in the nation, and he secured a conference-high 89 ground balls.
On the attack, Hamburg products, First-Team selections, and brothers Lucas and Mitchell Shafer tied for the team lead with 48 points, the sophomore Lucas second on the team with 32 goals and third with 35 ground balls.
Older brother Mitchell and Bowmanville native Courtland Black-Araújo, coming off a 39-goal season, will be just two of the weapons Steve Gartelman will need to replace for 2017 and the G-MAC, but junior Edmond Renaud appears to be the best bet to fill the void.
The Carlisle, Ontario native tallied 28 goals and 39 points while also scoring five power-play goals and securing 26 ground balls, sixth on the team among players other than Swan. The Storm also lost starting keeper Tom Lipomi, the Hamburg product who went 9-6 last year.
Lipomi went 6-2 in ECAC play and 5-2 in March, allowing single-digit goals in seven straight games and four of fewer in the first three of that streak.
Meanwhile, in Greensburg, 2015 ECAC Coach of the Year Brian Novotny enters his 12th year at the helm of the Griffins and stands just seven wins away from 100 for his career. The Griffins lost their top scorer in Zach Hartmann, fourth in the conference with 51 points last year,.
“(The ECAC) was a great conference, and this conference is going to be, especially when Wheeling (Jesuit, a Mountain East transitionary to the G-MAC for 2018) gets into it, will be just as strong, and then we’re able to keep Indianapolis (a former ECAC member and #15 on both preseason polls) on the schedule,” commented Ryan, entering his 17th year as head coach in Erie.
Ryan and the Lakers went 7-1 in the conference and 15-3 overall last year, hosting its third out of four conference tournaments and defeating newly minted independents Indianapolis (a full Great Lakes Valley member) and Lindenwood (Mid-American), who stayed in the South region after the ECAC split, en route to the final ECAC conference championship, their second title in four years.