September 2, 2019

Zinn's Contenders - Preseason

By Matthew Zinner

This season I’m going to be joining the D3soccer staff with a bi-weekly power ranking. After five years with the Tufts Men’s Soccer Program, I have reluctantly left behind the world of d3 soccer for the time being.  Given my familiarity with Tufts, the NESCAC, and New England based teams, I am sure there will be some bias in my rankings throughout the year. Unfortunately, I think that’s the reality of D-III Soccer where national experts just don’t really exist. That said, I was fortunate enough to play against teams from all over the country during my time with Tufts, which will hopefully be helpful. 

The purpose of this poll will be to take a little bit more of a deep dive into the rankings and tiers of teams rather than a simple top 25 poll.  The job of a top 25 poll is to rank the best teams based on their performances, whereas this column will focus more on predicting where teams should end up in the final poll. If Messiah starts the year 0-2, does that mean they are suddenly not one of the top 25 teams in the country? I’d say probably not, and that’s how this poll is going to treat it. 

Past performance as well as the number of starters, goals/points, and All-Americans returning will factor into these polls.  It will also look at strength of schedule, winning percentage, and the always difficult to quantify momentum.  And at the end of the day, some of the polling will be subjective, and I guess that why I’m getting paid the big bucks. 

The final element of the poll will be a tiering system. During my time at Tufts, we felt that there were about 30 teams that could win the National Championship each year if everything went right for them. This was the case of the 2014 team that was never solidly established in the rankings heading into the NCAA tournament.  These will be the “dark horses.”

Next, you have the 15 schools that are confident that with some favorable matchups and good health this is their year; the “title contenders.”

Finally, you have the elite programs that know no matter how much adversity they face, through a combination of talent, culture, and experience, they can ultimately win it all. These are the “title favorites” and usually consist of 4-5 schools a year.

Please feel free to comment on each poll, the methodology, and why you think things should be changed. Hopefully, this will help spur discussion over on the boards, where I know posters have run similar polls of their own over the years. 

So without further ado, welcome to the inaugural Zinn's Contenders.

[Editor's Note: The more observant amongst our readers will note that it is now three days after the start of the season, yet we call this a preseason ranking. Matthew did prepare his comments before last Friday, but with the holidays we are just now getting it published]

Title Favorites

1. Tufts 2018:   No. 1  |  18-0-3 (.929)  |  SoS .591
 

I already hear the complaints of bias and fair enough.  But here is why the Jumbos are the favorite heading into the season. 

  • Among the top 25 teams from last season, the Jumbos return more goals, assists, and games played than any other side, from a squad that went undefeated and won the National Championship.
  • They bring back 89% of their points, that is unheard of for a team coming off a title.
  • Coach Shapiro knows how to win. Tufts and Messiah are the only two teams with players that have won it all.

 But despite all this, I actually don’t think Tufts will win the NESCAC. This program still hasn’t repeated as champions and faces a newly configured NESCAC schedule. Plus they have to play at Amherst, where they have not won since their ascendance to the elite levels of D-III. A loss at Amherst, along with a few 0-0 stalemates will see someone else beat Tufts to the NESCAC regular-season crown.

2.

Calvin

 2018: No. 2  |  22-2-0 (.917)  |  SoS .578

 

Unlike Tufts, Calvin does lose a lot.

  • They only return 47% of their points and lose the best defender in the country.
  • But they will still be too good for their conference and have plenty of time to integrate the new crop of players
  • They will be perhaps the most motivated team in the country after falling one step short again.
  • Even though they have not gotten to the top of the mountain, this is the third-best program in the country right now with 4 National Championship game appearances in the last ten years.
3. Messiah 2018:   No. 4  |  19-1-3 (.891)  |  SoS .579
 

I think this Messiah team faces the most questions marks heading into the season since the 2015 team that missed the NCAA Tournament altogether.  That being said, I still placed them at number 3. There is no one player in the country that can step in and fill the Nick West sized void in this lineup, so it will take a group effort to replicate those goals. In addition to West, Messiah lost four more starters from last years Elite 8 team. But not all is lost in Grantham: 

  • Luke Groothoff was the only Freshmen All-American in the country last year and the first Falcon Freshmen to receive the honor since 2004. No doubt, there have been a few decent players in the interim.
  • 11, Eleven, ONCE (that's 11 in Spanish for all the Tufts players reading) National Championships. They are going to be alright.
4. Case Western Reserve 2018:   No. 7  |  16-4-2 (.773)  |  SoS .613
 

This is the first point where I diverge from last years rankings. Case always seems to fly under the radar in the UAA while stringing together consistently excellent seasons. Last year’s team fell just short of the Final Four, but they are now ready to get over the hump.

  • They return 83% of last year’s points, second amongst teams in the top 25.
  • UChicago is no longer the prohibitive favorite in the UAA leaving the path open for Case to win the nation’s second-best conference (Hey, I told you upfront, that I am biased)
  • After losing in the Elite 8, this team knows what it takes to win big games but is still hungry for a taste of the Final Four.
5. Amherst 2018:   No. 13  |  14-5-1 (.725)  |  SoS .590
 

After five years of having to play and coach against this program, I have too much respect to put them any lower. One of three teams to win it all in the last five years, Amherst is primed to retake their spot amongst the game’s elite this year. After a “down” season by their lofty standards, Amherst will be a force again.

  • They return eight starters including 63% of their team's point production
  • German Giammattei came in with as much hype as any NESCAC first year in recent memory and still won conference rookie of the year. With the talent around him, he will push for the conference lead in goals.
  • The team dealt with injuries last year, including to Jimmy McMillian who will be back for his senior year as one of the most electric athletes in the country.
  • The team has finally solved their issues in net after a strong freshmen campaign from Bernie White

Title Contenders

6. Montclair State 2018:   No. 10  |  18-2-4 (.833)  |  SoS .564
 

Despite the humiliating loss to Tufts in last year’s Elite 8. Montclair State reasserted themselves as the top dog in the NJAC.  This lofty projection is based on the assumption all their underclassman are returning, which is never assured, but the Red Hawks will be a talented group in 2019.

  • They return seven starters on a team that scored a ridiculous 88 goals last year
  • Rowan loses a big class after a sustained run challenging MSU in the NJAC
  • Always end up with one or two of the most talented freshmen in the country
7. Chicago 2018:   No. 3  |  18-3-1 (.841)  |  SoS .639
   After making another run to the Final Four last year, Chicago comes into this season with several question marks. Chicago somehow managed to recruit three UAA POY in the same class, unfortunately they are all gone along with the man that recruited them, coach Mike Babst who accepted a job at D-I Davidson College. 
  • They return eight starters from last years team, which will provide them with a wealth of quality experience
  • Unfortunately, the three departed seniors accounted for 59% of the team's points!
  • Under coach Babst, Chicago was one of the top five programs in the country. That type of success builds a culture of winning that will carry on even in his absence. Look for big years out of some players that fell into the shadows of Koh and Lopez
  • They return two All-UAA defenders and an All-UAA Goalie; they will be solid defensively
8. Johns Hopkins 2018:   No. 21  |  13-5-2 (.700)  |  SoS .603
 

Under Coach Appleby, Hopkins is always one of the best possession teams in the country.  By having so much of the ball, they very rarely concede goals. With a large contingent of talent returning they be among the best teams in the country.

  • They return 83% of last year’s Second R team
  • Forward Achim Younker was an All-American his sophomore year but missed time through injury last year. A dynamic attacking player, Younker, was one of the most challenging players I marked during my time at Tufts and will have a big senior year if he can stay healthy.
  • This team conceded goals late in big games costing them notable wins against Messiah and others. If they can sort the issue out, they will be one of the favorites in the Centennial.
9. Kenyon 2018:   No. 6  |  18-1-3 (.886)  |  SoS .578
 

A team I played twice during my career, Kenyon is one of the elite programs that has not quite broken through yet.  Always one of the national leaders in Win %, they hope this is the year they can convert regular-season success into a Final Four appearance.

  • They lose 42% of their points from last year in addition to heart and soul center back Bret Lowry
  • Kenyon somehow always seems to have another center back ready to step in and continue the line of All-Americans at the position
  • Coach Brown has established a pipeline into the New England prep schools that brings elite talent to the program each year and will surely help mitigate some of the departures
10. Rochester 2018:   No. 5  |  16-3-2 (.810)  |  SoS .592
 

Rochester pulled arguably the upset of the year last year with a 2-1 victory of Messiah. After field changes and multiple blizzards, Rochester emerged victorious to reach the Final Four before coming up short against Tufts. They lose D3soccer.com midfielder of the year Bryce Ikeda but have a large senior class ready to write some history of their own.

  • Return 61% of their points from last years team
  • Last year was their highest winning % in more than ten years
11. Cortland State 2018:   No. 9  |  17-3-3 (.804)  |  SoS .579
 

SUNY Cortland seem to have eclipsed SUNY Oneonta as the dominant power in the SUNYAC the last couple of seasons. A consistent Sweet Sixteen side, they haven’t broken through to reach a Final Four but are always in the conversation.

  • Will be an experienced team with eight returning starters and 75% of last years points
  • Bring back an All-American and three All-region players
12. Trinity (Texas) 2018:   No. 8  |  17-2-3 (.841)  |  SoS .534
 

I will admit this is another scenario where my bias comes into play. My junior year Trinity flew up to Tufts as the #2 ranked team in the country before conceding three goals in ten-first half minutes in a 4-0 loss to Kenyon. That performance certainly shapes my opinion of them. But it has also been a while since Trinity has made a run to the Final Four and every year there are questions about their strength of schedule.  But here’s why this year's team is different:

  • They bring back a ridiculous ten starters and 78% of their points from last year
  • Those players went up to Chicago last year and gave them a run for their money in the cold answering any doubts about their ability to travel
  • Never count out a legend, and Paul McGinlay is one of the icons of D-III Soccer as well as being a complete class act.
13. Penn State-Behrend 2018:   RV  |  16-4-2 (.773)  |  SoS .500
 

Heres a fun fact for you. Who has a higher winning % over the last five seasons PSU-Behrend or Tufts? That's right its the Lions from Erie, PA. And after their run to the Sweet Sixteen last year, this program is building momentum.

  • Returning 71% of points from last years team
  • While the lions don’t get a ton of attention and don’t have the hardest strength of schedule, next years group combines sustained regular season success with a taste of the postseason. That's a dangerous combination, and this will be a team no one wants to see come tournament time.
14. Ohio Wesleyan 2018:   NR  |  13-4-2 (.737)  |  SoS .556
 

My home run pick this year is Ohio Wesleyan. And I know you’re sitting there saying that it's only because I scored my first career goal against them…Oh, you didn’t know that? Well don’t worry it was only 50% of my career total. But that is not why I’m picking the Battling Bison to return to the promised land.

  • They return a staggering 95% of last years points, tops amongst teams from last year’s top 50.
  • This year’s team has eleven seniors, which is eleven guys that have spent every moment of the last nine months figuring out how to make this season special. A committed senior group can drive a team forward, and I’m counting on it in this case.
15. Middlebury 2018:   RV  |  10-4-3 (.676)  |  SoS .572
  Possibly a bit of a homer NESCAC pick but Middlebury has a chance to be very good this season. Its never easy to replace a legend, but Alex Elias did superbly to guide Middlebury to the tournament after the retirement of Dave Saward. They are always defensively solid and have enough offensive talent to win games come tournament time.
  • Return 80% of their point total from last year
  • They underperformed last year in the NCAA and will be motivated to rectify that this season
  • Have Senior forward Drew Ghoulart who broke my ankles, which was already sprained, so badly that I still hear about it to this day. So that’s got to be worth something.

Dark Horses

 

16. Carnegie Mellon 2018:   No. 19  |  11-5-3 (.658)  |  SoS .641
17. Stevens 2018:   No. 11  |  17-3-2 (.818)  |  SoS .524
18. New York University 2018:   RV  |  12-4-3 (.711)  |  SoS .559
19. Eastern 2018:   No. 12  |  18-3-2 (.826)  |  SoS .547
20. North Park 2018:   No. 17  |  16-3-0 (.842)  |  SoS .538
21. Franklin and Marshall 2018:   No. 20  |  14-4-3 (.738)  |  SoS .615
22. Brandeis 2018:   RV  |  7-9-2 (.444)  |  SoS .649
23. St. Thomas 2018:   No. 22  |  16-4-2 (.773)  |  SoS .590
24. Haverford 2018:   RV  |  14-4-1 (.763)  |  SoS .599
25. Hope 2018:   RV  |  14-3-1 (.806)  |  SoS .566
26. Mary Washington 2018:   No. 18  |  14-1-5 (.825)  |  SoS .543
27. Lynchburg 2018:   No. 23  |  13-2-2 (.824)  |  SoS .516
28. St. Joseph's (Maine) 2018:   No. 14  |  21-1-0 (.955)  |  SoS .511
29. St. Lawrence 2018:   RV  |  12-3-3 (.750)  |  SoS .565
30. John Carroll 2018:   RV  |  14-5-2 (.714)  |  SoS .604

 

 


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