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OWU & Denison Deadlocked Atop Preseason Poll

OWU & Denison Deadlocked Atop Preseason Poll

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North Coast Athletic Conference men's lacrosse coaches were split when it came down to predicting a champion for the 2016 season as Denison and Ohio Wesleyan finished in a tie atop the preseason poll. 

The Battling Bishops, who are the defending NCAC regular season and tournament champions, earned five of nine possible first-place votes, while the Big Red picked up the remaining four first-place votes, leading to a tie in the first position with 76 points each. Wittenberg landed in the third spot with 61 points, followed by Kenyon (56), Wooster (41), Oberlin (35), DePauw (31), Hiram (15) and Wabash (14).

Ohio Wesleyan will be looking to reload this season after losing eight All-NCAC players to graduation from its 2015 squad; however, reigning NCAC Offensive Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year Marcus Dietz (Westerville, OH/St. Francis DeSales) will again look to be a factor on the offensive side of the ball in his senior season. The 5-9 attack, led the Bishops a year ago with 67 points on 36 goals and 31 assists. Also returning to the fold this year for OWU are a pair of seniors who collected All-NCAC, first-team accolades a year ago, including defender Ben Danieli (Setauket, NY/Ward Melville) and long stick midfielder John Griffin (Oceanside, NY/Northfield Mt. Hermon, MA). Danieli and Griffin both played crucial roles on the OWU defensive unit that limited opponents to just 5.8 goals per game last spring. Danieli started all 19 games and accumulated 37 groundballs and 16 caused turnovers, while Griffin came off the bench in 18 games and totaled 40 groundballs and 14 caused turnovers. In five total years at OWU, head coach Mike Plantholt has compiled an overall record of 64-20 and has guided the Bishops into the national tournament on four different occasions, including last season's trip to the quarterfinal round. 

It will be a different story for the Big Red this spring as they return all but two starters from last year's team that compiled an overall record of 13-4 and finished second in the NCAC standings. Leading the Big Red will be the senior midfielder duo of Blair Farinholt (Richmond, VA/St. Christopher's School) and Eric Baumgardner (Washington, D.C./Gonzaga College). Farinholt, who was a first-team, All-NCAC selection in 2015, scored 51 points a year ago on 34 goals and 17 assists. Baumgardner, who was also named to the NCAC's top team in 2015, will again be counted on in the faceoff-X for the Big Red after winning 215-of-341 attempts last year. In addition, junior attack Liam Rooney (Redding, CT/Joel Barlow) also returns to DU's offense after he tied with OWU's Dietz for the NCAC's scoring title a year ago with 68 points on 40 goals and 28 assists. The Big Red will also be relying on production from a pair of seniors that are coming off All-NCAC campaigns, including midfielder James Meager (Worthington, OH/Kilbourne) and goalie Clark Bullington (Houston, TX/Strake Jesuit College Prep). Head Coach Mike Caravana returns to the sidelines in Granville for his 23rd season as one of the winningest coaches in college lacrosse with an overall record of 238-85 (.737) in 22 years at the helm. 

Ohio Wesleyan leads all NCAC teams with 19 championships in 31 years. Denison, which has won at least a share of four of the last five league titles, follows OWU with 15 all-time, while Wittenberg has two and Kenyon and Wooster each boast one championship. The NCAC has had tri-champions on three separate occasions, first in 2000 when the Big Red, Bishops and Lords shared the title, then in 2004, when Denison, OWU and Wooster each had a piece of the crown, only to have it happen again in 2011 with Denison, Wittenberg and Ohio Wesleyan sharing the top spot. The conference also saw Ohio Wesleyan and Wittenberg share the conference crown in 2010.

Founded in 1983, the North Coast Athletic Conference is made up of ten academically selective colleges and universities - Allegheny College, DePauw University, Denison University, Hiram College, Kenyon College, Oberlin College, Ohio Wesleyan University, Wabash College, Wittenberg University and the College of Wooster, along with affiliate member, Earlham College (field hockey). The NCAC sponsors 23 championship sports, 11 for men and 12 for women.

2016 North Coast Athletic Conference
Men's Lacrosse
Coaches' Poll
(first-place votes in parentheses, followed by total points)

1. Ohio Wesleyan (5) 76

Denison (4) 76
3. Wittenberg 61
Kenyon 56
5. Wooster 41
6. Oberlin 35
DePauw 31
8. Hiram 15
9. Wabash 14