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Defending national champs tabbed as preseason WLAX favorite

The Big Ten coaches released their preseason women's lacrosse poll Monday and selected Maryland as the preseason favorite. So what's the shock? You'll have to read the story to find out.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

First came the announcement that announced the announcement schedule. The Big Ten would release the preseason coaches poll and Players to Watch List for its inaugural women's lacrosse season sometime Monday afternoon.True to their word, the release reached my inbox late Monday.

The Poll

To no one's real surprise, the coaches tabbed Maryland as the preseason favorite to win the conference title. Northwestern, which played in the American Lacrosse Conference, and has reached the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament for 10 consecutive seasons, was picked second. (Because it only sponsors sports in which the conference champion receives an automatic NCAA bid, until the addition of Maryland and Rutgers, the Big Ten did not have a lacrosse league.)

In fact, the only mild surprise in the order of finish was a projected tie for third place between Ohio State and Penn State. The Nittany Lions have traditionally had the second strongest program among B1G member institutions and are ranked 11th in the national preseason poll while the Buckeyes are slotted as the 13th-best team in the land. However, the Buckeyes did make a late run last season, winning six of their last seven games before struggling a bit in postseason play.

Holding the bottom two spots were Rutgers, which finished 9-9 competing in the Big East in 2014, and Michigan. The Wolverines are playing in their second-ever women's lacrosse season.

Players to Watch

As we learned in the fall, the Big Ten does not select a preseason all-conference team but rather designates three players from each participating school as "Players to Watch." The list is published alphabetically by university so Maryland's three players headed that list.

In 2014, Maryland not only won the National Championship but, when the five finalists for the sport's most prestigious individual honor, the Tewaaraton Award, were announced, it had two Terrapins. Those two were junior defender Megan Douty and the eventual winner, sophomore Taylor Cummings. In addition to those two, the Terps will return Brooke Griffin who finished with 62 goals, just one behind Cummings but did so while taking nearly 50 fewer shots.

And here came the shock. Maryland's list of Players to Watch: Megan Douty, check. Brooke Griffin, check. Taylor...Wait! Maryland's third player is Kelly McPartland! In any other year and for any other team, the senior midfielder McPartland would be an outstanding choice. She had career highs in goals (61) and assists (33) as a junior. But you have the reigning Tewaaraton winner, the only sophomore to ever win the award, returning to your squad. She's not a Player to Watch?!

Here's the astounding paragraph from the press release:

Maryland captured its 12th national championship last season and is ranked No. 1 in the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine Preseason Top 20 poll. The Terrapins' Players to Watch are defender Megan Douty, attacker Brooke Griffin and midfielder Kelly McPartland. All three student-athletes were named first-team preseason All-Americans by Inside Lacrosse. In addition, the Terrapins return reigning Tewaaraton winner and first-team preseason All-American Taylor Cummings.

The talent on your team needs to be deep when the reigning Tewaaraton winner receives an "oh, and by the way" sort of mention in this release. The Terps certainly are deep. They return 11 of the 12 starters from the 2014 National Champions and their freshman class features, among others, Megan Whittle, the nation's top ranked recruit.

The "spring" sport gets under way Sunday afternoon (yes, January 31) when Ohio State hosts Detroit. Lacrosse in Ohio in January! Won't that be fun?

Maryland's first game will be two weeks later on February 15 at William and Mary. For their home opener, the Terps will host the only team to have beaten them in the last two years, the North Carolina Tar Heels on Saturday, February 21.