MCLA Division II Notebook
What if there was a team that made its way to its conference championship game the last two seasons? Would they be worthy of a national ranking? What if they also beat a team that has been consistently ranked, and is currently in the Top 25, in each of the last two campaigns? And how about if they defeated the eventual 2012 conference champion — another team currently ranked — during the regular season last spring?
Knowing all this, would you still leave them out of the polls?
Welcome to the University of Portland's world. The Pilots, a program in just its fifth season in the MCLA, has advanced to the last two PNCLL title games, defeated Western Washington (ranked No. 21 in this week's poll) in '11 and '12, and dispatched Western Oregon (ranked No. 15) in the final game of the '12 regular season.
"We're kind of a team that flies under the radar, but I think it's just the fact that we're a new program," said Portland head coach Mike Wilkerson. "We don't get much love in the polls nationally, or even in our conference. I don't know what more you'd have to do, other than win the conference, which helps, but we think we're as competitive as any team in our conference and we realize that to get more recognition, we have to travel out of the area."
That last part of the puzzle will be helped over the next four games. Portland travels to Las Vegas this coming weekend for games against Biola, No. 8 Concordia (Calif.) and UC Santa Cruz, and then will meet up with No. 12 St. Mary's in Redding, Calif. In order to get in on the Full House Faceoff, Wilkerson called Westminster coach Mason Goodhand, the organizer of the Vegas event, and made his case.
"I said, 'Here's the deal, we don't have a ranking, but I'm confident that we're going to be a competitive team this year,'" Wilkerson said. "'We lost nobody from last year and we had a lot of devastating injuries and we feel like we underperformed to what our potential was most of the year.' I think it's going to be a great experience for us to play Concordia again, as well as Biola and UC Santa Cruz, which have a similar profile to us. We're looking forward to it."
Time will tell how they handle this stretch, but there is certainly cause for optimism. Senior pole Moussa Gloyd, who ruptured his Achilles tendon just days before the '12 season, is back, as is Mike Henry, who Wilkerson describes as one of the best goalies in the country after earning conference MVP honors last year. Perhaps the most interesting development this spring is the addition of Ian McAnnis-Entenman.
McAnnis-Entenman made his name playing for Willamette, a former PNCLL program that is now defunct, where he was named the conference MVP in 2011 after scoring 39 goals and 16 assists in 10 games. In his career, McAnnis-Entenman has 180 points, and quickly picked up a hat trick and two dimes in the Pilots first game of the season against Portland State. McAnnis-Entenman is still a threat, but Wilkerson says he might play a different role with Portland.
"Ian's numbers at Willamette were inflated just by the way they allowed him to play, but we try to run more of a balanced offense," Wilkerson said. "He's a great addition to the offense, but we have a lot of talented players who can score. Where it will help is when other teams key on Ian, it will free up some other players for a lot of success. He's going to have a lot of success, but we also expect to have him draw attention from other teams."
Admittedly, there are a couple of reasons why the pollsters might not feel comfortable with the Pilots at this point. First, while they made the conference championship game the past two seasons, they got thumped by Western Oregon each time by a combined 27 goals. In addition, Wilkerson admits that that his squad does play a ball-possession style that often leads to a lot of close games (although the Pilots beat Puget Sound this weekend, 19-1).
"Out of conference people may look at us not winning games by very much, but two years ago we only gave up six goals a game and last year it was seven goals a game," he said. "We have a four-, five- or six-goal lead and that feels like a 20-goal lead because we're sound defensively. I think that has a lot to do with it."
Will the Pilots ever crack the national consciousness? They've got to be getting close.
- The Full House Faceoff has emerged into the premium in-season round robin tournament in MCLA-II, and this year will be just as intriguing. There are seven teams that are headed to Las Vegas (or Henderson, Nev., if you want to get technical) and each will receive a test.
Of the eight games this coming weekend, there are two that stand out. Friday night's game between No. 8 Concordia and No. 1 St. Thomas is the appetizer while Saturday's clash between No. 3 Westminster and the Tommies is the main dish. All three of these teams will be in Greenville, so these contests are more for seeding purposes. If one of the three other contenders — Portland, Fullerton or Biola — can steal a win against one of the Big Three, it will resonate in May.
- We knew there would be some dropoff this season for No. 12 St. Mary's after the graduation of a prolific senior class, but the Gaels were completely overmatched by No. 8 Concordia (Calif.) on Saturday afternoon in 22-9 wipeout. The Eagles were up 14-3 at halftime and coasted to the win. That was followed by a one-goal setback to Fullerton on Sunday. St. Mary's still has a shot at an at-large, especially with the extra bid this spring, but the Gaels will need to right the ship in a hurry.
- Solid start to the season for Humboldt State. The Lumberjacks went up and knocked off Southern Oregon in overtime before bouncing Pacific Lutheran. They don't have the schedule to grab an at-large out of the bidless WCLL, but they could register their first-ever winning season, which is something to hang their hats on... Occidental is 2-0. Oxy could realistically be 6-0 heading into the Fullerton game on March 9...after the 11-9 loss to Citadel, we can probably bid No. 20 Coastal Carolina adieu from the weekly poll. Citadel is 2-0 to start the year...nifty little comeback win for Missouri State over Division I Kansas, 12-11. I expect the Jayhawks to be in the hunt for the GRLC-I title, so this result has me bullish on the Bears.