The Stags are approaching the start of their 2015 season, which will be highlighted by the team’s move to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) and the opening of Rafferty Stadium. The transition to the CAA will bring with it five new conference foes: University of Delaware (Newark, Del.), Drexel University (Philadelphia, Pa.), University of Massachusetts Amherst (Amherst, Mass.), Hofstra University (Hempstead, N.Y.) and Towson University (Towson, Md.).
The Stags are picked to finish third in the conference, behind Hofstra and defending champions Drexel. Hofstra is ranked 17th in the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Preseason Poll, and boasts of the CAA Preseason Player of the Year Sam Llinares, in addition to four more Preseason All-CAA Team selections. Llinares, a junior attacker, tallied 21 goals and 32 assists in his sophomore campaign. The team’s 2014 season saw them post an 11-4 (4-1 CAA) record before an 11-10 triple overtime loss to Drexel ended their season in the conference championship. Fairfield is 1-3 all-time against Hofstra, last meeting on Feb. 24 last year in Hempstead which resulted in a 9-7 loss.
The preseason number two and 2014 conference tournament champions in Drexel will also prove to be a tough opponent. The Dragons had a program-best season of their own, with a 13-5 (4-1 CAA) record, a conference tournament title and a first round National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament victory against #9 Penn. Drexel holds the #16 spot in the USILA Preseason Poll, and three Preseason All-CAA Team members. The Dragons have graduated their top two offensive weapons, Ben McIntosh and Nick Trizano, who combined for 88 goals and 31 assists in 2014. The Stags are 0-3 all-time against Drexel, but have not met since 1995.
Towson is picked fourth in the conference preseason poll, coming off of an 8-7 (2-3 CAA) 2014 season, including a one-point loss to Drexel in the first round of the conference tournament. While posting a less-than-stellar record at the end of their season, Towson did spend a mid-season week at the #19 spot in the national rankings in 2014. They also placed one player on the Preseason All-CAA Team, senior defenseman JoJo Ostrander.
UMass, picked fifth in the preseason poll, has two Preseason All-CAA selections as well. The Minutemen finished 2014 with a 7-6 (1-4 CAA) record, including a loss to the Stags on March 18, when UMass held the #11 spot in the national rankings. Fairfield is 2-7 all-time against UMass, but has won two of the last three meetings.
Finally, Delaware is picked to take the last-place spot in the conference preseason poll. The Blue Hens finished with a relatively disappointing 7-8 (1-4 CAA) record in 2014, and were the only team in the conference to not make an appearance in the national rankings. However, junior goalkeeper Conor Peaks is a Preseason All-CAA selection, while midfielders Brian Kormondy and Tyler Barbarich are Honorable Mention picks. The Stags are 2-3 all-time against Delaware, but have won the last two contests, including an 18-8 victory to open the regular season in 2014.
Fairfield is not without preseason recognition of their own, with a trio of Stags picking up preseason conference honors. Senior Colin McLinden and T.J. Neubauer ’16 were both named Preseason All-CAA, while Max Buchanan ’15 is an Honorable Mention All-CAA selection. Neubauer tallied 22 goals and 29 assists in the 2014 season, and enters his 2015 campaign ranked third all-time in program history in career assists (67). Fairfield’s 2014 MVP in Neubauer is coming off of a 33-goal season with a .458 shooting percentage, good enough to clinch the 13th spot in the nation in his sophomore season.
Fairfield’s return of the offensive core in McLinden, Neubauer and Tristan Sperry ’15 should prove pivotal in the 2015 campaign. The trio totaled 79 goals and 55 assists between them. The Stags scored 181 total goals in 2014, which would have been second only to Drexel’s 209 in the same season. If Fairfield can consistently maintain and improve their offense, their inaugural CAA season could prove successful.
The obvious question mark looming over Fairfield has to be the goalkeeper position, as Jack Murphy ‘14 played his last year with the team and was drafted to the Boston Cannons. His virtually endless list of awards, honors and statistics won’t soon be forgotten, but Head Coach Andy Copelan must know that there is a huge spot to be filled between the pipes for the Stags.
The Stags open the 2015 season on Saturday, Feb. 14, hosting Holy Cross for a noon matchup, and the inaugural game at Rafferty Stadium.