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February 7, 2011

Making Sense: Gauchos Back to Form?

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive | Twitter

One of the most recognizeable teams in the MCLA, UC Santa Barbara is back to its winning ways. The Gauchos downed Cal in overtime on Friday night before cruising against UC Davis on Sunday.
© Nick Schooler

With UC Santa Barbara trailing by five goals on Friday night at Cal, Lane Jaffe looked around the Gaucho sideline for signs of panic. Jaffe, who was coaching his first game with UCSB after taking over for Mario Waibel in the fall, was pleased with what he saw.

"Our guys had the expectation that we were going to come back and win the game," said Jaffe on Sunday. "There was no question we were going to win."

With the help of middie Oisin Lewis, who won a series of critical face-offs in the fourth quarter, the Gauchos did indeed rally to defeat the Bears, 11-10 in overtime. On Sunday, Jaffe rolled all 44 players on his active roster in UCSB's comfortable win over UC Davis, 15-9.

The 2-0 start has fulfilled team-held beliefs, but expectations have been a challenging task for the Gauchos to live up to recently.

After establishing themselves as the signature program in the MCLA under the watchful eye of Mike Allan, who is now the offensive coordinator at Towson, including two national championship and two runner-up finishes, there has been a drop-off.

The Gauchos were eliminated in the first round of the 2008 and 2009 tournaments and failed to qualify for Denver last spring with a 10-6 record – the first time UCSB didn't make the tournament since 2000. With an influx of talent aided by the recruiting acumen of Waibel, Santa Barbara appears to be on the way back to prominence.

The team is certainly not tempering its expectations – "We'll always have just one goal, and that's to win the national championship," said Jaffe – but it might take a little longer to get a solid feel for just how good this team is.

It is, after all, an extremely young squad.

There are just three seniors on the roster and seven juniors; an upperclass contingent that is dwarfed by the combined freshman (26) and sophomore (8) classes. And while Cal and UC Davis are maturing programs, they aren't yet in the same league as No. 12 Cal Poly and No. 4 Colorado State – a pair of teams the Gauchos will face before the end of February.

Archrival Poly is next on the docket this Friday night in San Luis Obispo. Most people in the MCLA will have their eye on that result because of the rivalry and UCSB's stature as a marquee team. The contest will be dissected and opinions formed about the Gauchos.

Jaffe knows that. But he also knows his team is 2-0.

"There were enough people speculating about it," said Jaffe. "Now we're in it."

They're in it, and showing no signs of panic.

Terror Threat Elevated
There are three teams that have made the four-team Centennial Conference tournament in the last two years. Gettysburg and Haverford are obviously two of those squads, but did you have the Green Terror of McDaniel as the third? Probably not, but with the group Matt Hatton has coming back this spring, you might not make the mistake again.

"If you follow from a distance, we had some ups and downs last season and early on there were more downs than ups, unfortunately," said Hatton. "Some of the young guys were called on and we were able to get their stuff together so we were able to get back to the conference tournament. We had a decent showing against Gettysburg and had we been a little more experienced and executed a little better, maybe we could have made a push on Gettysburg like Haverford did on the following Sunday."

The Green Terror is now a year older and Hatton finally has a team made up of kids he recruited. As a result, Hatton has put together the strongest schedule since he took over the program five years ago. Along with the hyper-competitive Centennial slate, the Terror will take on Montclair State, No. 3 Salisbury, Mary Washington and St. Mary's.

"You have to bring it every day in this conference or you're going to be on the outside looking in," said Hatton. "The true competitors – the student-athletes we're trying to get – want to play a schedule like that. You have to have things sharpened up when we get into conference play. A lot of the coaches would have less gray hair if we were in a different conference, but our guys wouldn't have it any other way."

The schedule is, in essence, taking a page out of the Haverford playbook from last year: schedule tough games early with the goal of peaking when the conference tourney comes around. Will it work? We'll see, but just don't be surprised if the Green Terror are in the mix at the end again.

Cabrini Enters Post-Grugan Era

He was one of the dominant players in Division III last year, scoring 65 goals and dishing out 32 assists for a 15-4 Cabrini squad that made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. But now Casey Grugan has graduated. It's doubtful the Cavaliers will be better without their All-American attackmen, but they could give opponents a whole new look.

"The danger is if you have one or two guys who say, 'Okay, he's gone, now I have to assume that role,'" said Cabrini coach Steve Colfer. "If that happens, we'll be in a big trouble. If we spread [Grugan's points] out among five, six or seven guys and they each own a little piece of it, we'll be okay. Hopefully that scenario will play out. I don't think we have any great players yet, but we have a lot of good-to-very good players. Hopefully that will make us a little more dangerous and the opposition's scouting reports a little deeper."

Senior attackman Paul Skulski (35g, 23a) will be one guy who'll share the load, but also look for production from sophomore Jeff Crosby and junior Joe Arrell, who combined for just 14 goals and six assists last spring. Even with the promise these guys have shown, Colfer knows there will be times when having Grugan for another year would come in handy.

"It was always nice when you needed a goal," said Colfer with a chuckle. "We've been tinkering and staying positive with the young guys and talking ourselves through situations; just sort of teaching on the fly. We didn't have to do that as much last year when we had a field general, but we're doing more of that this spring. It is rewarding in that sense, but it does get frustrating at times when things don't go the way we hoped. But we always show up the next day ready to go."

They better figure it out quick. The Cavs come out of the gate against No. 6 Haverford (Feb. 26), No. 13 Lynchburg (March 5) and a highly regarded Hampden-Sydney team (March 9). And on March 16, Colfer will bring his troops to play No. 7 Gettysburg.

Fortunately for Cabrini, even though they don't have Grugan, they still have the CSAC, which should punch the Cavaliers' ticket to the tournament once again.

Thin It to Win It

When you have to play four games in five days – the tournament grind you must endure to win an MCLA national championship – depth can have just as big an impact on a team's chances as a dominant face-off man or All-American finisher. This fact is what makes the tiny roster size of Simon Fraser, which advanced to the national semifinals last year, so alarming.

Brent Hoskins, the Clan's co-head coach along with Jeff Cathrea, isn't terrible worried about the fact he only has 17 field players and two goalies on the roll.

"We probably won't have too many players complaining about playing time," deadpanned Hoskins. "We'd like to have a higher number, but we typically run a smaller roster than most teams. When you make a run, it's nice to have depth. But with that said, we're confident in the guys we have and we're fortunate that even though we only have 19 players on the roster, all 19 players are capable of playing at an elite level of the MCLA. We're happy with what we have."

In addition to being thin, the Clansmen will be young. There are just four seniors and one junior on this year's edition, with the remaining players either freshmen (8) or sophomores (6).

Sophomore Colton Dow, who scored four goals in Fraser's first round win over Florida State last year, will be one of the top guns and Hoskins is also high on rookie Calvin Craig on attack and sophomore Stuart Mills in the midfield.

"It's probably realistic to expect – and I think every team goes through growing pains – that there will be a transition period for us," said Hoskins. "We're still confident that we're going to be in every game and prepared to win it. But the experience we gain playing a lot of those early match-ups, win or lose, will prepare us for the games we need to win at the end of the season.

"With the pieces we lost from last year there is going to be a bit of an adjustment period. We're prepared for that, but ultimately the goal is to be back in Denver in May."

Games Balls

Ted Ferrin – Midfield, BYU

It was a solid first outing for the junior attackman. Not only did Ferrin score four goals, but he set up four others in the Cougars 17-3 hammering of Boise State.

Christian Furbay – Attack, Dayton

The junior struck for four goals and an assist in the Flyers' 17-3 dismantling of D-I foe Kentucky. Furbay also chipped in with a team-high eight ground balls. Hat tip to Dayton teammates Connor Carrols (2g, 2a), Gerry Jehling (4g, 1a) and Alex Reynolds (16 svs, 2ga).

Jamie Bridgman – Attack, UCSB
The junior scored a goal and set up five others to help the Gauchos roll past UC Davis on Sunday.

Benny Krinecik – Midfield, South Florida

The junior scored a pair of goals and dished out a trio of helpers in leading the Bulls to a 15-13 victory over North Florida. You can also tack on a team-high seven ground balls for Krinecik.

Josh Puckett – Attack, Indiana Tech
The rookie is adjusting quite nicely to the MCLA. Pucket racked up 11 goals and one assist in the Warriors 3-0 start to the season. His game came in Tech's 14-8 win over Palm Beach Atlantic when he netted a five-spot.

Ronnie Rothstein – Goalie, Western Oregon

Western Oregon put to bed any notion that they won't be winning the PNCLL championship again by dispatching Gonzaga, which just moved down from Division I, in the opener, 13-4. Rothstein was clutch, making 16 saves on the afternoon against just four goals allowed.

Power Fives

NCAA Division II

1. C.W. Post (0-0) – Good that the Pioneers are giving some Western teams a taste this spring.
2. Le Moyne (0-0) – There are really on two potential losses on the Dolphins schedule.
3. Mercyhurst (0-0) – Seven of the Lakers' first eight games are on the road.
4. Merrimack (0-0) – This year is gravy for the Warriors. Next year they could be favored to win it.
5. Limestone (0-0) – I was surprised to see how close the Conference Carolinas preseason poll was.

NCAA Division III

1. Tufts (0-0) – One week and the Jumbos can start practicing!
2. Cortland (0-0) – Steve Beville became a Hall of Famer this offseason.
3. Salisbury (0-0) – The Gulls play their first game before Tufts can officially practice.
4. Stevenson (0-0) – Haverford game is just two short weeks away.
5. Middlebury (0-0) - One week and the Panthers can start practicing!

MCLA Division I

1. Michigan (0-0) – The Wolverines continue their tour of the NCAC with Kenyon up next.
2. Arizona State (0-0) – We'll get an idea what the Devils are about in the opener vs. Utah.
3. Colorado State (0-0) – Still lingering questions about that loss to Simon Fraser in Denver.
4. Chapman (0-0) – Will the uneven SLC divisions have an impact on the season?
5. Oregon (0-0) – The opener against Cal next weekend is looking more perilous now.

MCLA Division II
1. St. Thomas (0-0) – For my money, St. Thomas has the toughest schedule around.
2. Davenport (0-0) – A healthy Jordy Sayers will be key this spring.
3. Westminster (0-0) – Opening with Western Oregon sets the tone for the Griffins.
4. Dayton (1-0) – Nothing like starting the season with a rout against a D-1 team.
5. Utah Valley (0-0) – If you're going to play Utah in the middle of the season, why a scrimmage?

Slides & Rides

NCAA Division II

Hang tight, D-II fans. The season is almost here. I posted a story on Corey Lunney and the Merrimack young guns last week. Other than that, we're just waiting for things to pick up in a couple of weeks.

NCAA Division III

- My weekly "Weekender" notebook that is posted every Friday touched on the new coach at Montclair State in the wake of John Greco's passing in November. Well, guess who's starting the season against the Red Hawks? Yup, it's McDaniel. Green Terror coach Matt Hatton understands what he's going against.

"I'm sure that they are going to be playing with a pretty good fire and rightfully so," said Hatton. "It's going to be interesting. There is no question they are good and we're lucky to have them on the schedule."

- It's almost an annual conversation, but I always end up talking with Cabrini coach Steve Colfer about the state of the Colonial States Athletic Conference. Colfer has always had to front-load his schedule with a brutal mix of teams to make up for the general weakness of the CSAC. While the league is maturing, Cabrini's run over the past five or six years has given the others schools like Marywood and Gwynedd-Mercy something to shoot for.

"When we have recruits that have spent some time on one of their campuses or met the coaching staffs, they say, 'Coach, man, all they talk about is beating you guys.' That's how they recruit and how they practice," said Colfer. "We wear a bulls-eye. I get it. I really like the guys who are coaching in the conference. They are good guys and they are doing things the right way. I know they are coming after us and it is our challenge to keep them at bay the best we can. It's going to become more and more difficult as the years go on, but that's a good thing. It will push our program."

Don't expect anyone to catch Cabrini this year, however.

- Happened to call Hatton on Friday, which was also his 32nd birthday. Hope he enjoys the cake now because the Green Terror's schedule would give most people indigestion...the Midwest Lacrosse Conference is about to start up its last season without an automatic qualifier. The tourney AQ kicks in next year, but with four Pool B spots around this spring the potential is there for an MLC team to earn a nod to the dance. The likely candidate: Adrian. The Bulldogs would have to put together a strong record and win two out of three against the Wooster, Wittenberg and Kenyon trifecta...the MAC should be fun to watch this year. Not only does it feature 12 teams, but there are several contenders for the crown, including Widener, FDU-Florham, Lycoming, Elizabethtown and Messiah.

MCLA Division I

- A loss is a loss, but there's reason for some optimism in Milwaukee after Marquette lost to No. 9 Minnesota Duluth on Saturday evening, 13-6. Why? Because the Golden Eagles lost to the Bulldogs twice last year by the scores of 17-3 and 19-1. After falling behind early, 5-1, Marquette tightened up the defense and kept Duluth off the board in the second quarter. At the end of three, it was UMD leading by the count of 7-4 before putting the game away in the final stanza. Much of the good vibes must be tempered because Mankato State pounded Marquette on Sunday, 18-7 – five goals worse than last year's loss to the Mavericks.

- On the flip side, we probably shouldn't read too much into Duluth's performance. They were missing a couple of offensive players and still picked up an important league win. Brandon Nispel delivered as advertised, scoring four goals and setting up one other. The Bulldogs will get tested again next Sunday when they play an improved Mankato State team before they hit the road for consecutive games against No. 6 BYU, Utah, No. 8 Oregon and No. 7 Colorado. After those games we'll be able to better evaluation Duluth.

- This will be the fifth time in school history that Simon Fraser will be below the 20-man mark. I probably should have saved this factoid for "Trivia!" but the Clan has previously been sub-20 in '01, '02, '03 and '06 along with this season, according to Fraser co-head coach Brent Hoskins.

- We can tell by the scheduling that Washington is getting more serious about its lacrosse program and the Huskies got off the a decent start by beating Western Washington, which is ranked No. 16 in Division II, 15-10...It's a shame that the Lindenwood had their tour of the LSA canceled due to weather, but the loss of the games – against Texas State, SMU and Texas – isn't terribly important in the grand scheme of things. Both the GRLC and the LSA are one-bid leagues this year, so the only game that really matters for both of these teams is the conference championship contest...Clemson continues to improve, and the Tigers showed it in the 10-3 walkover against Tennessee and a 16-1 smashing of East Carolina...Texas blasted Rice, 23-1...from what I understand, Chapman lost to its alumni team. Honestly, if the Panther alums had half the guys they lost in the last three years, that's not a bad loss...Florida scored 30 goals in a pair of conference wins over Miami and South Florida...Schooling Schooler Pick 'em competition begins this week.

MCLA Division II

- I'll man up and admit it: I thought Gonzaga was going to make a real splash this year after moving down from Division I into the junior circuit. That notion was quashed on Saturday after No. 10 Western Oregon smashed the Bulldogs, 13-4. I suppose despite the score Gonzaga can take the optimistic approach and believe they'll have another crack at the Wolves in the PNCLL championship game. However, after this beatdown, can we expect the Bulldogs to even make it that far? They did rally to beat Southern Oregon on Sunday, 8-2. Meanwhile, at this point WOU is just playing for a seed in Denver.

- As we headed into the season it appeared the SLC was again going to be a battle between Biola and Cal State Fullerton, but there is suddenly a new contender. With Concordia's 13-12 victory over UC Santa Cruz – once thought to be a contender for an at-large bid out of the non-AQ WCLL – the Eagles are a threat. And with No. 4 Westminster, Biola and No. 10 Western Oregon on the schedule, Concordia will be in the mix for an at-large bid if they can snag one against that trio. As much as I hate to write it in February, you can probably put a fork in the Slugs.

- Indiana Tech is off to a 3-0 start after sweeping their three-day, three-game southern swing this past weekend. The Warriors didn't exactly schedule the big dogs, beating Appalachian State, Palm Beach Atlantic and Liberty, but the record looks pretty right now. Tech now as a month off before playing again, and they'll do it by playing No. 5 Grand Valley State and No. 2 Davenport in the span of seven days.

- St. Mary's wasn't able to get one of the games it needed in Georgia, but the Gaels proved that they are a team on the rise. Finishing with a win over Emory on Sunday was a good finish...rough first weekend for Western Washington. The Vikings decided to play three games in a 19-hour span and ended up finishing second in all three. WWU is ineligible for the postseason after some off-season contretemps, but despite the rough start they could upend a couple of favorites before the season is over.

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