Blogs and Commentary

posted 02.11.2013 at 10.02 a.m. by Jac Coyne

MCLA Division I Notebook

The National College Lacrosse League (NCLL) serves an important purpose, as does any organization that provides lacrosse opportunities for college players. The fact that the NCLL gives a club option at schools that also have varsity teams — something the MCLA has, to this date, opted not to do — gives it a worthwhile niche. But the Nickel, as it's known, does have its drawbacks.

Coaches are a rarity and the games are played by a set of rules different than the NCAA's version — both of these by the design of the NCLL founder, Scott Frederick (who passed away in December of '11) — which leaves the league as a bit of a collegiate outlier.

For several members of the George Washington team, there was a need for something different.

"That was pretty much the reason I was brought on board: to bring the team to the MCLA," said Joe Opron, the Colonials head coach. "They came to GW and saw the state that the team was in with the NCLL, and they said, 'Enough is enough.'"

The catalyst for the move was Conor Gaffney, a transfer from Division III Franklin & Marshall, who saw the potential that GW possessed. He was gung-ho, but Opron had to make clear just what the program was getting itself into. Opron was a captain at Oakland (Mich.) University back when the Grizzlies were MCLA national powers — Oakland was the only other team to win a CCLA championship other than Michigan up until last year — and knew intimately what the requirements were to be competitive.

"I told them that they have to want this because it's not going to be an easy process," Opron said. "You're going to upset friends. Some of these guys aren't going to make the commitment necessary and you've just got to be willing to face the tough decisions.

"We put in a no drinking policy, we put in a travel schedule, we put in mandatory practices and mandatory conditioning. This was a smack in the face to a lot of guys. They did not see this coming and we lost a lot of talented players. There are a lot of good players on the GW campus who are not going to be suiting up for us this fall. They are not willing to make the commitment, but what those guys saw before hiring me was a lot of potential. The light at the end of the tunnel will be worth it, but we're in that growing pains process right now."

The Colonials have several solid players to build on this year. Senior goalie Zach Quinn was a starter at Ward Melville (N.Y.) and had several NCAA D-I offers, according to Opron, and David Goscinak is a 6-foot-6, 250-pound middie out of the Rivers (Mass.) School who, not surprisingly, is expected to cause matchup problems. The only issue GW faces this year is the roster numbers, which currently stands at 23 entering the season.

With the help of a couple of key assistants — J.D. Englehart, a former defensive captain for Washington & Lee, and former GW player Matthew Francis — Opron decided to put together a challenging schedule that includes No. 9 Pittsburgh and New Hampshire out of conference and No. 10 Virginia Tech within the SELC.

Opron, who is an attorney by day, talks confidently about where GW can go after this first season, but he understands the challenges, the biggest of which is location. George Washington is in Washington, D.C., meaning it is in the belly of the NCAA beast.

"Our problem is unique," Opron said. "The only other team in the MCLA who might have it is a Boston College. Everywhere around us there are options to play varsity lacrosse. I went to school in Michigan and there wasn't an option. You played MCLA or you went out East. It gave a different dynamic with recruiting. Our situation right now is to sell the MCLA brand to these guys saying, 'Look, we have GW that is a very unique school. George Washington has what no other school has, and that's access to the City of Washington, D.C.'"

The Colonials have a puncher's chance of making the eight-team SELC tournament, but it will likely mean sweeping divisional games against West Virginia, Richmond, Tennessee and Kentucy. That's no small feat for a new program in the MCLA.

Regardless of the results, George Washington is where it wants to be.

"It's different, but I would say it's all positive," Opron said. "We're really happy to see the level of professionalism, especially out of guys like Coach [Glenn] Carter from Richmond. Before we even knew we were in the MCLA, he was reaching out and saying, 'Congratulations, let's get you on the schedule.' I can't say enough about the league and how honored we are to be in it. This has been my dream for the team since I came on board and it's been the dreams of the kids since they got on campus."

- There's always an ebb and flow with some mid-tier programs, but the waning outlook for Loyola-Marymount is still surprising. Just last year, the Lions beat Colorado and played to within a goal of Simon Fraser and three of UCSB. But after a stunning, 8-4 loss to USC – a program returning to the MCLA after a year-long banishment – on Saturday, LMU is 0-2. More troubling is five of the next seven games come against Cal Poly, BYU, Colorado, Colorado State and Chapman. The good news is LMU started last season 1-2 before rebounding. They're going to need to tap into that magic soon.

- Grand Canyon had to feel like Mother Nature didn't approve of their move to Division I on Friday night. On their drive to San Diego State, the 'Lopes ran into a 'desert blizzard' between Phoenix and San Diego, causing near white-out conditions and turning a six-hour journey into a nine-hour trek. "I think the bus driver took a wrong turn in Yuma and we ended up in Erie, Pennsylvania," joked GCU coach Manny Rapkin.

That was about the only obstacle for Grand Canyon on the trip. The 'Lopes doubled up the Aztecs, 14-7, helped by a 10-point afternoon from Carson Barton (6g, 4a) and a combined 27 saves from Jordan Johnson (17) and AJ Wilkerson (10). Still Rapkin didn't sound that pleased when asked about the positives he took away from the contest. "We won the game. That's about it."

A 10-hour bus ride to Cal Poly awaits next weekend, but the 'Lopes won't leave Phoenix for the rest of the season.

- In last week's Making Sense column, UC Santa Barbara coach Mike Allan was operating in the wake of his overtime loss to Stanford. One of his key points was about how he wanted his kids to focus on "the process."

"The process is getting better every day, not focusing on rankings or whether we were supposed to lose to Stanford or are we supposed to win this weekend or any of that junk," he said. "Just get better the next day."

Mission accomplished for the Gauchos. UCSB went up to No. 5 Cal Poly and stomped the Mustangs, 12-3, and then turned around 24 hours later and clipped No. 13 California in overtime, 9-8. That's a Greenville-quality back-to-back performance and one the Gauchos should enjoy over the next two weeks. The process begins again quickly at that point with games against No. 20 Northeastern, an undefeated UNLV squad and then the champs in a seven-day span.

- Cal Poly better find a way to score more than three goals with Grand Canyon coming to town or there could be trouble in SLO...Wins are wins, but there weren't a whole lot of style points in Clemson's 2-0 weekend...Luke Donovan scored six goals as Florida State evened its record with a 17-5 win over South Florida...Texas has outscored its opponents 65-10 in its first three LSA contests...congrats to Duluth head coach Sam Litman for picking up his first MCLA win...same for Davenport's Chris Gervat...UNLV quietly went 3-0 in its swing through may sound a little weird, but TCU's win over D-II Sam Houston State is a nice result for the Horned Frogs.