When Washington College finished third in the NCAA Division III basketball tournament last year, a veteran and talented bunch of Shoremen went 13-0 in games decided by five points or less.
This year, Johns Hopkins has the ability and experience to do the same. The Blue Jays return six of the first eight players from the first Hopkins squad to win 20 games. They reached the NCAA round of 16 a year ahead of time, and expectations are high at Homewood.
Hopkins and the rest of the state's Division III teams open this weekend, and a look at the men's prospects follows.
JOHNS HOPKINS is the preseason favorite in the Southeast Section of the Middle Atlantic Conference, and fifth-year coach Bill Nelson knows many opponents will be gunning for his team. Five current seniors were in Nelson's first recruiting class, and seven freshmen make this year's group the best set of newcomers since.
"We did have a good recruiting year," Nelson said. "It's a good thing, because after this year's seniors leave, the cupboard is bare with just a few exceptions."
Nelson will savor this senior class. With 1,415 points, guard Andy Enfield is Hopkins' all-time leading scorer and one of the nation's best at the free-throw line. He was honored as MAC Southeast Player of the Year. Dave Eikenberg, a 5-foot-10 dynamo out of John Carroll, blossomed at the point last year, and 6-5 Bill Zahn quietly averaged 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds.
Eric Hastings, a 6-5 center out of Perry Hall, will have to produce in the pivot now that Evan Jones has transferred to California-Davis. Baseline artist Jay Gangemi, a 6-3 junior, averaged 16.4 points and 5.9 rebounds, and classmate Mark West is looking to rebound after a down year. Among the freshmen, 6-4 Frank Grzywacz figures to have the biggest impact.
WASHINGTON lost three 1,000-point scorers and 84 percent of the scoring from the team that dropped a four-point decision to NCAA champion Rochester in the semifinals. Coach Tom Finnegan has three freshmen, six sophomores and a transfer, but he's confident the Shoremen can challenge Hopkins and Widener in the MAC Southeast.
"We graduated 14 seniors in the last two years," Finnegan said. "In the past, when we've had a team made up predominantly of freshmen and sophomores, we avoided getting hammered."
Tim Liddy, a 6-5 junior, is the lone returning starter, and he averaged 5.1 points and 4.1 rebounds. Darren Vican (6-9) and three other sophomores -- Bill Baldwin, Dan Dutton and Mike Swanson -- could eventually make Washington more rugged than ever inside.
Peter Basel is the most experienced guard, but transfer Allen Lester and freshman Geoff Rupert will get long looks in the backcourt. Rupert and Dutton were high school teammates at South Carroll.
It is also a transition year for WESTERN MARYLAND, which is picked to finish last in the MAC Southwest after a 5-19 season. Longtime coach Alex Ober resigned, and assistant Nick Zoulias took over the program.
He has plenty of experienced hands available, as there are six seniors back. Ed Krusinki and three-point ace Eric Watkinson (Parkville) combined to score 16.4 points in the backcourt. Mike Sherlock got 10.4 points and 4.5 rebounds, and he needs help inside from Rob Howell (Mount St. Joe), junior Scott Roth and 6-6 sophomore Paul Pawlowski.
Maryland's two entries in the Eastern States Athletic Conference both feel they have what it takes to unseat Shenandoah.
SALISBURY STATE led the nation in scoring with a 104.5 average last year, but the Sea Gulls were 14-13 overall. Coach Ward Lambert's run-and-gun style attracted some decent recruits, including 6-5 trigger man Ed Kucharski, and the talent should fit the system better this year.
David Byer and Jamie Gosweiler are returning starters who combined to average more than 30 points, but the key veteran is 6-4 junior Andre Foreman. One of the state's top small-college talents, Foreman averaged 25.5 points and 13.3 rebounds as a sophomore, but sat out last year to get his academics in order.
FROSTBURG STATE was a disappointing 13-13, and there are enough talented returnees and newcomers to get close to the 19-win season coach Oscar Lewis' Bobcats had two years ago. Junior forward Carlos Wicker will probably up his scoring average from 13.4 a game, and Kevin Jessie and Will Liggins are proven guards.
Three familiar juniors will aid the inside game. Transfer Scott Kerr, a 6-5 forward, played at nearby junior college power Allegany. Brent McKenzie had solid numbers as a reserve last year, while Andrew McLeran took the season off.
The state's newest team is the one at GOUCHER, where there are only 150 men on campus. Coach Leonard Trevino has experience out west, and his backcourt will consist of Californians Mike Hootner and Corey Gardner. Darryl Grady is only 6-1, but the Detroit native knows his way around the basket.
Rob Zmarzly, a 6-6 freshman from Archbishop Spalding, will give the Gophers a foundation to build on.
Goucher is a member of the fledgling Capital Athletic Conference, where one of the favorites is ST. MARY'S. The Seahawks are coming off of their first winning season in 12 years, and coach Jay Gardiner brought back 10 letter-winners, including sophomore point guard Quentin Hillsman.
The freshman class includes Sean Keehan, a 6-9 center from Calvert Hall, and Mike Rudolph, a guard from Loyola.