Blogs and Commentary

posted 09.14.2012 at 10.03 a.m. by Jac Coyne

MCLA Division II Summer Notebook

Despite the continued insistence by many of its coaches that MCLA Division II is not a developmental league, it's tough to ignore the bleeding off of the division's best programs since its inception in 2005. Three of the five teams that have won D-II national championships have bumped up to Division I, the latest of which is Davenport, which starts its first season in the senior circuit in '13. Grand Canyon, a tourney quarterfinalist in '12, also makes the jump this spring.

As much of a concern as this is, the slow creep is not the biggest threat to Division II sustainability.

It's the continued growth of lacrosse in the NAIA that has the potential to create a largest headache for MCLA-II.

The way the MCLA is presently constructed, NAIA schools that participate in the association are automatically plugged into Division II. Despite the fact that many of these institutions sponsor lacrosse as a varsity program and are incorporated into the athletic department (as opposed to the club sports or rec departments), the NAIA schools haven't dominated the MCLA-II landscape. Even with more money and resources, the only NAIA team that boasts an D-II national championship and still operates in the division is Westminster.

But competition level isn't the issue. It's the number of teams.

At some point, the number of NAIA teams is going to hit the magic number (thought to be in the 50 range) that will trigger that organization to sponsor lacrosse and create its own national tournament. Admittedly, this is still several years off, but this year we'll see the formation of the first league tournament sponsored by an NAIA conference.

The Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC) will have six teams sponsoring the sport – Davenport, Indiana Tech, Aquinas, Siena Heights, Lawrence Tech and Michigan-Dearborn – and four of those teams are current MCLA-II members. All of them will remain in D-II, but they will incorporate a side competition to declare a conference champion.

This is not a big deal in itself – and will have no bearing on how MCLA-II operates in the immediate future – but it's the first sign that the NAIA is starting to coalesce. As more and more NAIA schools figure out that lacrosse is an effective way to fill enrollment needs and gain notoriety for the institution, you can bet there will be a tipping point that will create an avalanche of NAIA schools adding lacrosse.

Again, this is not imminent, but it will happen. Division II – and the MCLA as a whole – needs to be proactive about dealing with the issues because the loss of NAIA schools, combined with the steady matriculation of D-II schools to the NCAA, could decimate the division's numbers quickly. At that point, wearing the "developmental" label would be the least of its problems.

Speaking of NAIA Teams

Davenport's move to Division I would seemingly take away one of the CCLA's big guns (with are currently Grand Valley State and Dayton), but there could be powerful replacement waiting to fill the void. Indiana Tech, which is entering its fourth year of existence, has the look of a contender.

"This is our first year with seniors, so I think that will be major for us," head coach Terry Nichter said. "We graduated two guys last year and only one of them was a starter, so pretty much everyone is returning. We're going to be a little bit stronger as a unit."

The Warriors went 9-8 last season, but played within two goals of both SCAD and Davenport and only lost by a goal to North Dakota State. After losing to GVSU by 10 goals in March, Tech took the Lakers to the wire in the CCLA semifinals before succumbing, 9-8.

With another tough schedule against the division's top teams, the Warriors are looking like a team that could be the CCLA's perennial third team qualifying for nationals.

"The first couple of years it was a matter of learning and chemistry building," Nichter said. "Now these guys have been playing with each other for four years, so they have an idea of what other people like to do and where we'll need help. It will be a major test for us. Hopefully we'll be able to crack into it, but I think this year is the best chance to make that happen."

Bison Still Climbing

North Dakota State had a pretty good season last year. The Bison finished 10-5, beat conference rival St. John's, knocked off Briarcliffe in the first round and hung around with St. Thomas (their third meeting with the Tommies) in a 10-7 loss.

According to head coach Zach Bosh, you ain't seen nothing yet.

"The team from last year to this year is like night and day," he said.

The optimism stems not from depth of the 42-man roster, but rather the quality of that depth.

"Last year we were two lines deep in the midfield and this year I think our fourth line of middies would be on par, if not better, than our second line last year," Bosh said. "The way I tried to explain it at practice, if we were to go 21 vs. 21, our second 21 would be able to compete with most teams around the 10-15 ranking and our top guys could compete with the Top 5 teams."

Getting that much talent to Fargo might seem odd, but it's just the product of a little program momentum. After its breakout season in 2011 when it made its first nationals appearance combined with last year's quarterfinal run, NDSU is now a legitimate option for top players, which are mostly coming from Minnesota.

"We were a doormat a couple of years ago, and now it doesn't take as much for people to become interested," Bosh said. "Players are inquiring about us and we're kind of picking and choosing."

Perhaps the biggest draw this year is Andy Madsen. A former player at LIU-Post (NCAA D-II) and a First Team All-American FOGO for Duluth in 2011, Madsen is using his final year of eligibility with the Bison. His presence could solve a big problem for the Bison.

"At nationals last year, that was our biggest downfall," Bosh admitted. "Against Briarcliffe, I think we won four faceoffs the entire day and against St. Thomas I think we won three. You give us six more possessions in that [St. Thomas] game and that can make up for three goals or at least get us to within a goal. We started to come back in that game, but we just couldn't get the ball back. I'm guessing [Madsen] will go around 70 to 80 percent for us this year. "

The UMLC will once again be a bear with the presence of UST and St. John's, but the sounds emanating from Fargo make it seem like there might be a new sheriff in town.

NOTES: Westminster announced a nine-member incoming class, featuring players from Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Maryland...Western Oregon is traveling to the Upper Midwest to face North Dakota State, St. John's and St. Thomas in a four-day span. They'll be lucky to win one game, but the experience should make the PNCLL slate a cake walk...not only did Cal State Fullerton opt to forgo a move to Division I as it had planned, but the Titans will be playing without the services of Cam and Chris Cole in '13...Mike Cummings is high on his incoming class, which features players from New York, Maryland, Connecticut and Texas. "We expect good things from these 'NewBees.' (See what he did there?).

St. Mary's coach Colin Knightly has tried to put together another solid non-conference schedule in order to help the Gaels get back to the nationals. What team would he most like to add? "What I would really like to do is add another WCLL game to our schedule and get and AQ," he said. Looks like the WCLL will still be at-large or bust again in '13...St. Mary's should be a very strong defensive team this spring...Dayton head coach Charlie Mark never lacks for confidence. Despite losing an epic senior class, the Flyers head man likes what he has. "We will run, run, run, and run this year – in everything we do. We have the best FOGO in the country in J.P. Hewitt. We will be tough."