Blogs and Commentary

posted 02.25.2013 at 10.02 a.m. by Jac Coyne

MCLA Division I Notebook

Despite its 7-6 record last year, which included an omission from the WCLL tournament, it wasn't too difficult to envision a solid season for Stanford this spring. They played tournament teams like UC Santa Barbara (7-6 loss) and Arizona State (8-6) close, and even knocked off California, 9-8, before the Bears headed off to Greenville.

But a 5-0 start to the 2013 campaign and a No. 4 national ranking? Yeah, that was probably a surprise to everyone outside of Palo Alto. Don't bother bringing it up with the Cardinal, however.

"Nobody on this team is concerned with the rankings in mid-February," said Stanford head coach Drew Virk. "We enjoyed the bus ride home from UCLA and the Pac-12 Shootout, but come next practice, we were back to work. Beating UCSB and Oregon early was a big step in building confidence, and we are proud of our seniors for what they have accomplished thus far, but we know every team out there is getting better, and we are focused on improving every practice. The next game is always our focus."

The next game on the schedule is a conference game against UC Davis, starting a four-game stretch in which Stanford will be prohibitive favorites. It's one of the few breaks on the slate, which has been stacked with ranked opponents. That's been standard the last two seasons for the Cardinal, part of their philosophy of using the schedule to provide benchmarks.

"Playing the most established and organized, talented and well-coached teams is the best way to gain insight and gauge competition in the MCLA," Virk said. "Our schedule is created to give the team the best experiences to win our league and the national tournament."

If there's one question mark about this Stanford team remaining after its spectacular start, it's with their roster size. With the exception of Simon Fraser, most of the top teams in the MCLA boast rosters nearing 40 players. The Cardinal only have 23 on their roster, including a pair of goalies. The wear and tear of a season has a tendency to grind down low-number programs.

Virk actually believes it's to his team's advantage.

"This is less of a concern and more of an asset," he said. "This program has always been thin in numbers due to our school's admissions process. This emphasizes the importance of each individual, and demands accountability. If one player wavers in their commitment, the entire program suffers. We understand the undertaking of the entire season, so we train our bodies accordingly and train each player to be able to play multiple positions and roles on the team. Several players will play with both a long- and short-stick during a game. There is never a dull moment in scouting and game planning, and we are all having a great time with the process."

So far this season, senior attackman Jack Farr and freshman middie Peter Doyle have been the faces of the Cardinal. Farr is not a surprise. The two-time All-American has produced since he arrived on campus — he had 82 goals and 62 assists in his first three seasons — and he buried Oregon earlier this season with an 10-point performance. Doyle is a bit more of a surprise, stepping right in and becoming a factor. He announced his arrival with a five-goal debut in the victory over UCSB in the season-opener.

The way Stanford is approaching it this year, Farr and Doyle are just the tip of the spear.

"As a team sport, one player cannot be successful without the others," Virk said. "We have set up a system that allows players to step up and make big plays, but they could not do it alone. So far this season, Farr and Doyle have been able to showcase their talents at different times. As teams focus on them, there are many other talented players on this team who are going to step up behind their lead and produce.

"Senior faceoff midfielder Sean O'Brien and senior LSM Nolan Pura continue the tradition of disciplined work ethic and get tougher every game, while senior Malcolm McGregor has become a vocal leader on our defense. Our most sound on-ball defender, senior Johnathan Burnadel-Huey, will soon be back from an injury, and sophomore defenseman Jaime Goldfield has stepped up in a major way. We have two very talented sophomore goalies, and they push each other to improve regularly and continue to get bigger between the pipes. Every player on our short roster would have to be mentioned in order to explain our success so far this season."

It's tough not to get excited about Stanford's postseason potential. The season has to fully play out, but the Cardinal appears to be a mortal lock for Greenville as at least an at-large team. With a home victory against BYU on March 27 and a WCLL title, a Top 3 seed at nationals is well within reach.

Not that Stanford is interested.

"We talk about the postseason at the first meeting in the fall," Virk said. "If the postseason is something we want to be a part of, we base our training accordingly. This season, the captains have set their sights and we are doing what we can to actualize those goals."

- It's time to take a hard look at Auburn. The Tigers are now 5-0 after a weekend sweep of Florida (14-10) and South Florida (18-8). Granted, the best win on the slate so far has been the Gators, which is still struggling to regain their 2010 form, but when you consider Auburn has already eclipsed their 2012 win total (4-6), my interest is piqued. We won't have to wait long to gauge the Tigers, as they face No. 22 Florida State on the road and No. 10 Pitt in a neutral-site game in back-to-back contests this weekend.

- In that same vein, it's also time to keep an eye on Georgia. The Bulldogs are now 6-0 after beating Florida State for the first time since 2008, 11-6. Combined with the hot start is the fact that the Dawgs have a mid-April trek to the Rockies where they'll play Colorado and Colorado State. That kind of trip is titillating for the selection committee regardless of the outcome, especially if UGA comes up short in the SELC tourney.

- BYU will get a two-week breather against Utah State (March 2) and New Mexico (March) 9 before heading out on a grueling, six-game road trip...Simon Fraser avenged its stunning loss to Boise State last year with a 14-6 triumph over the Broncos...for a team hovering around the Top 10, Virginia Tech's victories over Georgia Tech and Tennessee left a little to be desired...Chapman is tip-toeing a very fine line right now...Duluth's 1-1 weekend against Cal Poly and Arizona State has to be considered a victory. The Dawgs are still in the hunt...Northeastern left California with an 0-3 record, but the losses were by a combined five goals. The Huskies are going to be a big player in the PCLL.