Colorado State (17-2, MCLA Quarterfinals)
Key Loss: Alex Jacques. Senior goalies are always at a premium, and replacing Jacques and his .621 save percentage will be one of the primary challenges facing the CSU staff this fall. Having a former goalie as the head coach will likely expedite the transition, but this is a position to watch for the Rams.
Key Returnee: Cooper Kehoe. A legit Player of the Year candidate, Kehoe was masterful last spring with 41 goals and 38 assists, producing against all of the top teams. His goal numbers will probably be in the same vicinity, but if the other finishers convert their chances, he could be a 100-point player when the dust settles.
Wild Card: Defense. With Kehoe leading the way, the Rams shouldn’t have trouble scoring goals, but with the loss of Jacques and long pole Andrew Stein, the backline will have to be restructured. Assuming there is a steady growth curve among the defensive players over the course of the season, Colorado State will be a title contender.
Reality: With their usually brutal schedule, the Rams will be in Denver. The question is whether they can use their flameout in the quarterfinals last year as a stepping stone to greater success in 2011. Or will it linger in the team’s collective psyche and make them jittery at crunch time? All of the pieces are there, so CSU’s finish will be based on leadership by the upperclassmen and motivation by the staff.