Blogs and Commentary

posted 04.08.2013 at 10.02 a.m. by Jac Coyne

MCLA Division I Notebook

Now in its second year after the program was banished from the MCLA for indiscretions, UNLV is in pretty good shape, all things considered. They've got a coach who has strong connections to the area and a dedicated, albeit small, band of players who can slug it out with the heavyweights in the SLC and RMLC.

The Rebels' 6-6 record doesn't look that impressive on the surface, but if you dig a little bit, you find that UNLV has gone toe-to-toe with some of the top programs in the country and held their own. BYU only managed a 9-7 victory and UC Santa Barbara capture a narrow, 8-6 triumph. Colorado State couldn't get out of single digits in a 9-5 win.

Most teams would love to be able to run with the MCLA show ponies, but UNLV's ability to do it with a tiny roster makes the feat almost stunning.

"We have a 16-man roster and basically everyone on the team plays," said coach Darren Gagnon. "We play teams like BYU and CSU and they have a 50-man roster and we're competitive with them. It's pretty interesting. I have one midfielder who literally doesn't come of the field."

Gagnon took over the Rebels program with a strong pedigree in Sin City. He led Centennial High School to three Nevada state championships and also coaches on several travel teams. With the squad consisting entirely of Vegas kids, they know what they are going to get with Gagnon because most have played for him or against him.

Gagnon sticks with local kids for a couple of reasons. First, Las Vegas is emerging as an oasis for lacrosse, with numerous kids heading off to marquee Division I programs over the last couple of years. There's plenty of talent, and Gagnon is finding that LV players who went off chasing the varsity dream are returning, including kids from D-I and D-II.

"They go play NCAA lacrosse and it's not everything it's cracked up to be," Gagnon said. "The kids are used to services 24-7, and you go to a town that shuts down at 8 p.m. and it's a big difference."

Second, players brought in from outside of the city rarely have the ability to handle the bright lights of the city, school and lacrosse.

"Kids coming to Las Vegas will either succeed or fail," Gagnon said. "It's just a different animal. The local kids have a grasp on that because they've been here their whole life."

Because of the inherent trust level between the coach and his player, Gagnon was able to convince several offensive players to convert to close defense. It took a little convincing, but with the entire defense wiped out from 2012, there were few options.

"They play every minute of just about every game," Gagnon said. "Jordan Grant was an all-SLC midfielder as a freshman and he has been dominant on defense. Conner White, a lefty attackman, was one of my leading scorers last year. Bryce Griffiths was my faceoff midfielder. The thing that I benefit from is ground balls and ability to handle the stick and clear the ball. All of those guys can clear the ball. They are all smart enough that it has helped out dramatically."

UNLV doesn't have the wins to contend for an at-large bid, and they are a long shot to win the stacked SLC, but they'd like to make the conference tournament and then roll the dice. In order to make the tourney out of the SLC North, the Rebels will have to win the season finale against Loyola Marymount on April 20 (unless LMU losses to UCLA next weekend).

"We treat each and every league game as a one-game season," Gagnon said. "UCLA was our Super Bowl. LMU will be our Super Bowl. We do have the benefit of playing at home, where we play a lot better."

If they can pull off the win, UNLV will be a team that no one in the SLC wants to see on their side bracket. The Rebels may not necessarily win, but they'll take enough out of their opponent to potentially impact the course of the playoffs. It's not much, but it signifies that UNLV is back, and they are only going to get better.

- Gagnon said that UNLV has plenty of talented players on campus right now that just can't come out for the team. Because the school is renowned for its hotel services degree, it is a popular major, but it means that students typically only take nine course credits (below the MCLA minimum) and must work 40-hour-a-week internships to satisfy the curriculum. Lacrosse will just not work for them.

- While talking Cal's Dan Cohen and head coach Dan Nourse for a story I put together on Friday about Cohen, it was interesting to see that they were exactly on the same page as to what happened to the Bears last year in Greenville and how to rectify it. Cal made the tourney last year as an at-large for the first time since 2002, but was bounced in the first round by Buffalo.

"Once we get to nationals we want to make some noise," Cohen said. "We don't want to be the wide-eyed guys that are just excited to be there. We want to take that experience from last year and make some noise."

"We were a little bit wide-eyed, for sure," added Nourse. "We're expecting that we'll be able to get back to Greenville this year and [Cohen] definitely wants to go further his senior year. He'll do anything in his power and push everyone around him to get back there and to go deeper into the tournament."

- Two weeks after putting together one of the most impressive road trips in MCLA history, BYU has crashed down to earth. The Cougars had the luxury of hosting both No. 2 Colorado and No. 1 Colorado State and weren't able to win either. As if the No. 3 seed in the RMLC tourney wasn't ignominious enough, CSU put it on BYU to the tune of 16-5. The Rams led 6-1 to start the game and never looked back. The sky isn't falling in Provo — the Cougs are booked for Greenville — but Matt Schenck and company will have to do a thorough post-mortem.

- Nice weekend for Davenport, as the Panthers traveled to Virginia and knocked off No. 23 Virginia Tech, 13-8, and Clemson, 16-12. Davenport trailed 7-3 at the half to the Hokies, but outscored Tech 10-1 in the second half. Jordan Richtsmeier had seven goals and six assists in the two games...on the flipside, it was not a great weekend for Georgia Tech. Since ascending to No. 14 in the polls, the Yellow Jackets have lost two straight, including an 8-4 setback to a 3-3 N.C. State squad. Worse, Georgia Tech could easily miss the SELC tourney, with the best case scenario being a win over Georgia on April 20 and hoping for some luck in a three-way tiebreaker with UGA and Auburn.

- With its comfortable, 13-7 victory over No. 6 Stanford, Sonoma State has not only locked up a bid to Greenville, but the Seawolves now appear to be the team to beat in the WCLL. The field for the WCLL tourney is pretty much set — 'Noma, Stanford, Cal and Cal Poly — but there will be some jockeying for position down the stretch. As odd as it would be to hear it a year ago, everyone would like to face Poly in the semifinals...Iowa defeated Iowa State, 12-11, for state bragging rights...Texas dismissed Southern Methodist, 10-7. The Mustangs were the last team with a chance at challenging the almost seems like the GRLC is doing its utmost to make sure they have the No. 16 seed (which is a lock).