Northwestern hosting Canisius in the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse opener. Here's a closer look at the Nike/US Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

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Maryland midfielder Zoe Stukenberg fends off Florida defender Caroline Fitzgerald in a matchup of All-Americans on March 19, 2016. The two Top 5 teams square off again March 29, 2017.

NCAA Preview: Division I Women's Preseason Top 20

The race to May starts today, with Northwestern hosting Canisius in the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse opener. Here's a closer look at the Nike/US Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

1. North Carolina

2016 record: 20-2 (7-0 ACC)
Last seen: Upending the reigning national champion thanks to goalie Megan Ward stoning the Terps for the second time in four years. 
Starts lost: 27%
Scoring lost: 21%

Forecast: The Tar Heels lost their starting goalie from the NCAA final, but still have senior Caylee Waters, the 2015 IWLCA Goalie of the Year. Plus senior draw specialist Sammy Jo Tracy returns after recovering from a foot injury, as will Maggie Bill after taking a year off. Their leadership will be critical in tight games, but expect top-notch performances from top returning scorer Molly Hendrick and midfield dynamo Marie McCool.

Enemy lines: “Champ is the champ 'til they get beat. … Lock for the final four. … Return tons of talent led by Sammy Jo Tracy, Maggie Bill, Carly Reed, and Marie McCool. Sydney Holman’s back from ACL. Will need to replace Messinger.”

2. Maryland

2016 record: 22-1 (5-0 Big Ten)
Last seen: Losing to North Carolina in the NCAA championship game for the second time in four years, ending its bid for an undefeated season.
Starts lost: 26%
Scoring lost: 24%

Forecast: The first-ever three-time Tewaaraton winner Taylor Cummings just walked out the door. So did Tewaaraton finalist and All-American defender Alice Mercer. While Cummings stood by the restraining line during faceguards, happily watching a six-on-six offense highlighted by Megan Whittle, how much will her graduation loom in College Park? Food for thought: The Terps lost more seniors to start 2016 than 2017, and went undefeated until the championship game.

Enemy lines: “Maryland as an underdog? Who would’ve thought that would be possible, but losing Cummings and Mercer will do that. … Can Whittle run an offense? It’s yet to be seen. … Tons of talent led by Zoe Stukenberg along with a top recruiting class, but life without Taylor Cummings and Alice Mercer begins.”

3. USC

2016 record: 20-1 (9-0 MPSF)
Last seen: Playing toe-to-toe with Syracuse before falling in overtime, just one game shy of the coveted final four in just its fourth season.
Starts lost: 46%
Scoring lost: 37%

Forecast: The first-ever class graduated, but the Trojans will enter 2017 with a huge chip on their shoulder. Losing to Syracuse in the NCAA quarterfinals, one of the best games of 2016, left the Trojans wanting more. Rising senior All-American Michaela Michael is the leader, but USC also boasts nation’s No. 1 freshman recruit, U.S. U19 standout Kerrigan Miller.

Enemy lines: “Didn't lose a lot and did a fantastic job competing in 2016. This could be the year they crack the final four. … If USC wants to take that next step, [goalie Gussie] Johns needs to take one as well. She can’t have a repeat of a 25-percent save percentage in a quarterfinal game. … Kerrigan Miller will be an impact freshman.”

4. Stony Brook

2016 record: 17-4 (6-0 America East)
Last seen: Giving up a halftime lead to Syracuse and ending its hopes of a final four appearance.
Starts lost: 21%
Scoring lost: 7%

Forecast: Stony Brook is the dark horse of 2017. The Seawolves have been on the verge of breaking through for the past few seasons and enter spring with threats all over the field, from Courtney Murphy, the first player in NCAA history to score 100 goals in a season, to goalie Anna Tesoriero, who finished second in goals against average in Division I.

Enemy lines: “Return over 90 percent of scoring, starting goalie and defensive experience. Why can’t this be their year? … Spallina has done amazing things with this program. … Ohlmiller and Murphy could be best 1-2 combo in NCAA.”

5. Florida

2016 record: 18-2 (7-0 Big East)
Last seen: Losing two draws in overtime and ultimately the game to Penn State, quickly giving up its No. 2 seed after a well-rested bye.
Starts lost: 39%
Scoring lost: 31%

Forecast: The Gators already proved they could lose a Tewaaraton finalist and not miss a beat. Will they fare just as well without Nicole Graziano as they did without Shannon Gilroy? Sophomores Sydney Pirecca and Lindsey Ronbeck will lead that charge.

Enemy lines: “Always a ton of talent, but can they mesh? … Defense vs. Top 10 teams needs to improve substantially. … Some key losses, but reload with lots of talent. Sydney Pirreca will have another banner year.”

"Maryland as an underdog? Who would've thought that would be possible?"

6. Syracuse

2016 record: 19-6 (5-2 ACC)
Last seen: Lacking confidence, a rarity for the Orange, in an unexpected blowout to Maryland in the NCAA semifinals.
Starts lost: 47%
Scoring lost: 55%

Forecast: Syracuse’s graduation losses, including four-time All-American Kayla Treanor and Halle Majorana, seem astonishing. But the Orange are known to reload. Nicole Levy appears to be a natural replacement for Treanor as the leader of the offense. Levy likely will benefit from playing alongside Albany transfer Alie Jimerson. But how Syracuse’s defense fare in front of inexperienced goalies?

Enemy lines: “Lost so much talent, but Gary always has more waiting for their chance. Perhaps they’ll struggle early, but by May, I expect them to be in the thick of things. … Lose their two top scorers from 2016 in Treanor and Majorana. … Will reload on offense with [Riley] Donahue and Levy.”

7. Penn State

2016 record: 14-7 (3-2 Big Ten)
Last seen: Making their first final four appearance since 1999, upsetting two seeded teams before losing by one goal to eventual champ North Carolina in the NCAA semifinals.
Starts lost: 40%
Scoring lost: 36%

Forecast: When the Nittany Lions lost their top two scorers from 2015, they shocked the lacrosse world by making their way to the final four with new offensive leaders, including freshman Madison Carter. But now can they make up for Madison Cyr's offensive production? It starts with Steph Lazo, but question marks remain on the draw and in net.

Enemy lines: “Big 2016. … Will have a target on its back. … Key losses in Cyr and Mosketti, but Lazo will look to have another breakout season.”

8. Notre Dame

2016 record: 14-7 (4-3 ACC)
Last seen: Cruising past Northwestern before succumbing to North Carolina in a heated NCAA tournament road game.
Starts lost: 50%
Scoring lost: 32%

Forecast: Losing Barbara Sullivan, their heart-and-soul defender, will take a huge toll on the Irish. But All-American Cortney Fortunato is primed for a big senior year. Fellow senior Casey Pearsall also will assume a larger role as a do-it-all midfielder.

Enemy lines: “Top players and goalie return, but will miss Barbara Sullivan. … Return some major scoring threats, and they are always on the brink of breaking through. … Fortunato will be a frontrunner for the Tewaaraton Award.”

9. Northwestern

2016 record:: 11-10 (3-2 Big Ten)
Last seen: Squeaking into the NCAA tournament and falling to Notre Dame.
Starts lost: 33%
Scoring lost: 24%

Forecast: After a red-hot freshman season, Selena Lasota cooled significantly as a sophomore and at times tried to do it all on her own. She’ll have fellow World Cup players Danita Stroup and Megan Kinna, a highly regarded freshman, at her side. But can the Canadian trio bring the Wildcats back to the final four?

Enemy lines: “Kinna is incredible and is an early dark-horse Tewaaraton nominee. Could adding her to make a trio of Canadian world-teamers be enough to take this team back to Memorial Day? … Still need to do something about that defense, and who will make saves for them? … Lasota should be a frontrunner for the Tewey, but will need [Christina] Esposito and [Shelby] Fredericks for help.”

10. Duke

2016 record: 11-9 (4-3 ACC)
Last seen: Suffering its third loss to North Carolina in one season, this time in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Starts lost: 34%
Scoring lost: 36%

Forecast: Duke rebuilt after losing six starters and more than 70 percent of their point production last year. 2017 looks rosier at the outset. Top scorer Kyra Harney returns, as does draw specialist Olivia Jenner. However, the Blue Devils must replace stalwart goalie Kelsey Duryea, just one of the questions on their defensive end.

Enemy lines: “A down year for the ACC could help Duke. … They were fairly young last year. … Will make their way back to the Top 10. … Led by returners Harney and [Maddie] Crutchfield on the offensive side, but have a hole to fill in cage.

Nike/US Lacrosse Rankings
Division I Men | Division I Women
Division II Men | Division II Women
Division III Men | Division III Women

11. Stanford

2016 record: 14-4 (8-1 MPSF)
Last seen: Falling victim to the geographical constraints of the NCAA tournament, losing to MPSF rival USC for the third time.
Starts lost: 45%
Scoring lost: 34%

Forecast: The loss of midfielder Lucy Dikeou and defender Adrienne Anderson surely will hurt, but the Cardinal return attacker Kelsey Murray, their top scorer in 2016. Kelly Myers will take the reins on the draw.

Enemy lines: “Will feel the loss of Dikeou in the midfield, but strong everywhere else on the field. … Well-coached. … Always find a way to win.”

12. Virginia

2016 record: 9-9 (3-4 ACC)
Last seen: Mounting a too-little too-late comeback in the second half of an NCAA tournament first-round loss to Johns Hopkins.
Starts lost: 34%
Scoring lost: 27%

Forecast: Top scorer Kasey Behr returns, but seniors Kelly Reese, Besser Dyson and Posey Valis should be key leaders on offense. The Cavaliers’ starting goalie, Rachel Vander Kolk , now has U.S. experience under her belt and will play behind a defense bolstered by U.S. U19 defender Sarah Platt.

Enemy lines: “Luckily, a lot of teams in the ACC lost a lot of talent. If they improve in net, maybe they could steal some wins. … Always a contende,r and they return a solid goalkeeper. … Return all of their heavy hitters for 2017 including Behr, Reese, and Valis.”

13. Penn

2016 record: 15-5 (6-1 Ivy League)
Last seen: Cruising through the first and second rounds before getting doubled up by Penn State in the NCAA quarterfinals.
Starts lost: 44%
Scoring lost: 59%

Forecast: Penn will take one of the biggest hits, graduating key attackers Nina Corcoran, Iris Williamson and Catherine Dickinson. However, the Quakers still have top scorer Alex Condon, and the defense remains mostly in tact. Starting goalie Britt Brown and defender Megan Kelly, who led Penn with 29 caused turnovers, provide a solid foundation. Caroline Cummings also should remain the draw specialist.

Enemy lines: “Best of the Ivies with returners. … Huge hole to fill with Corcoran gone — 85 points and their QB on offense. … May struggle to find offense, but are always sound defensively.”

14. Princeton

2016 record: 11-6 (6-1 Ivy League)
Last seen: Being on the wrong side of history in an NCAA tournament upset loss to upstart UMass.
Starts lost: 26%
Scoring lost: 20%

Forecast: Of the top three Ivy League teams, the Tigers return the most, including leading scorer Olivia Hompe. The draw is a work in progress, as no clear leader emerged in 2016, but Princeton’s ground game will keep it in the hunt.

Enemy lines: “Phenomenal keeper in Ellie DeGarmo. Best ball stopper in NCAA — there isn’t competition for this title. … Return the best attacker in the Ivy League in Olivia Hompe.”

15. Johns Hopkins

2016 record: 11-8
Last seen: Getting a tough draw to face state rival Maryland in the second round as one of the few teams to challenge the Terps during the regular season.
Starts lost: 39%
Scoring lost: 36%

Forecast: It’s a B1G year for Johns Hopkins. The Blue Jays will have a home once again, but it will be a challenging one, joining the Big Ten with the likes of Maryland and Northwestern. How much will losing Dene' DiMartino affect their outlook? U.S. U19 midfielder Miranda Ibello looks to break out as a sophomore alongside junior attacker Emily Kenul as Johns Hopkins’ top players.

Enemy lines: “Best offensive scheme in college lacrosse. … Could this be the year they make serious noise? … The graduation of DiMartino is a huge loss. Kenul should have a breakout out year, while [Shannon] Fitzgerald and [Haley] Schweizer return in the midfield.”


Top scorer Kelsey Murray returns for Stanford, ranked No. 11 in the Nike/US Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

16. Cornell

2016 record: 14-5 (5-2 Ivy League)
Last seen: Going head-to-head with another team on a historic run, but falling to UMass in the NCAA tournament.
Starts lost: 44%
Scoring lost: 32%

Forecast: Cornell had a breakout 2016 campaign in the Ivy League, but lose five key starters, including offensive leader Olivia Mattyasovszky. The Big Red also must rebuild their defense around goalie Renee Poulett. If Amie Dickson (back) returns healthy, she will be the leader on offense with the help of breakout stars Joey Coffy, Catherine Ellis and Taylor Reed.

Enemy lines: “The best Ivy last year. … With a healthy Dickson, they could make some noise nationally.”

17. Towson

2016 record: 16-4 (5-1 CAA)
Last seen: Hoping its zone defense would throw off seeded Penn, but dropping a 12-4 decision in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Starts lost: 25%
Scoring lost: 5%

Forecast: Towson and Stony Brook are the two teams with the most returning. Senior Kaitlyn Montalbano leads the offense, but the Tigers’ strength is a zone defense that surrendered just 6.8 goals per game, fourth-best in Division I.

Enemy lines: “Return all of their top point producers from last year. … Return every member of a balanced offense. … Their smothering zone should be even more effective this go around.”

18. Boston College

2016 record: 10-9 (2-5 ACC)
Last seen: Eking into the NCAA tournament, only to fall to Stony Brook by two.
Starts lost: 31%
Scoring lost: 42%

Forecast: Sarah Mannelly departs, but the Eagles boast young talent like Sam Apuzzo, who scored 29 goals in nine games as a freshman before going down with a season-ending injury. The Eagles need to replace Mannelly on the draw and defensive leader Molly Erdle.

Enemy lines: “Will feel the loss of Mannelly on offense and Erdle on defense. … Ready to get back on track. … Kenzie Kent is a phenomenal addition when she joins the team after hockey season.”

19. Louisville

2016 record:: 12-6 (3-4 ACC)
Last seen: Trying to breathe life back into its season, but ending on a five-game losing streak.
Starts lost: 42%
Scoring lost: 59%

Forecast: Kaylin Morissette was the face of the Louisville program, but she struggled to keep the Cardinals afloat after starting goalie Brittany Reed went down with injury. Cortnee Daley and Kelli Gerding also graduated. Rising senior Hannah Koloski will need to help fill that void.

Enemy lines: “Lose Morissette and their other top two scorers. … Challenge to replace Morissette on the draw (154 DC). … Returns a complete defense in front of keeper Brittany Reed.”

20. UMass

2016 record: 20-2 (9-0 Atlantic 10)
Last seen: Upsetting Ivy powers Princeton and Cornell before getting blown out by Maryland in the NCAA quarterfinals.
Starts lost: 46%
Scoring lost: 43%

Forecast:  UMass advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time since 1984, but ultimately fell to Maryland. Playing in the lackluster Atlantic-10, the Minutewomen usually fly under the radar. They lost big scorers in Erika Eipp and Eileen McDonald, but Holly Turner and Hannah Murphy are rising stars.

Enemy lines: “Always undervalued by the polls. People just aren’t paying attention to them or simply aren’t watching. Either way, they are legit. … Big losses with Eipp McDonald and Troost. … Rebuilding both scoring and assisting.”

Excerpts of this article appear in the February NCAA preview edition of US Lacrosse Magazine. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription