April 5, 2012

Schooling Schooler: The Inevitability of BYU

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Brigham Young won its fourth national championship last year, and no matter how much MCLA fans want a new face this spring, title No. 5 for the Cougars is a fait accompli.
© Cecil Copeland

Remember back in 2009 and 2010, when we were all looking for that team that could stop Michigan's march toward the national championship. Chapman looked like they could make the Wolverines work. Colorado State appeared to peaking at the right time. And it sure seemed like Arizona State had all of the pieces in place to make things interesting.

Then Colorado upset Michigan. There was a chink in the armor! The Wolverines are vulnerable!

We were always on the lookout for potential storylines that would blur the inevitable fact that UM was going to win the title because it made the season more interesting. Why even bother going through the process if we accepted the Wolverines supremacy?

I did it often in these same pages, always picking Michigan State to beat its archrival in order to keep hope alive – and perhaps tweak John Paul along the way. I mean, it wasn't like it would make a difference in this competition. I was leading Schooler by double digits whenever that game came around.

Still, in the deep recesses of our minds, we knew. It was a fait accompli. There was no way Michigan was going to lose.

Anyone who believes that the same is not true of Brigham Young this spring is similarly deluding themselves.

Oh, sure, Cal Poly is looking good. Chapman can play with anybody. UCSB is back. Colorado State is unbelievably deep. Blah, blah, blah.

It's all just chatter.

BYU is going to win the 2012 MCLA Division I championship. Some of you will try to put up a fight, but at the end of the day, there is that little voice in the back of your head that is confirming this. (Nick's little voice is also telling him to climb a tree in Berkeley.)

The Cougars possess all of the traits we came to appreciate in Michigan. A deep midfield, a player-of-the-year quality attackman, a competent goalie and a gritty defense. And BYU has that same unflappability that was the Wolverines' signature trait.

BYU lost to Cal Poly by a goal on their western swing. They might even lose this weekend when they travel to Highlands Ranch to play Colorado State. They may stumble in the RMLC tournament. But when the final whistle blows on May 19, it will be the Cougars holding the chalice aloft.

And you all know it.

SCHOOLER: There is no obvious pick for the national champion this year. Over the past three years, it has been pretty easy to assume that Michigan would win it all (even though that was not the case last year). This year, however, Cal Poly, Colorado State, BYU, UCSB, Chapman, and even Oregon have a reasonable shot at it.

But this spring, the trophy makes it's way back to California.

That's right, it is coming back home to the central coast. Not to Santa Barbara, but about 100 miles north to San Louis Obispo. Cal Poly has put together their best team that I can remember.

Scott Heberer is the face of the Mustang offense and a shoe-in as a first team All American. He reminds me a lot of former UCSD star attackman Nick Dean, a player who was way ahead of his time. You can try to lock Heberer off like UCSB did, but he still manages to get free. Against the Gauchos, he scored two goals and dished out an assist, as well as scoring the game-tying goal with 16 seconds left to send the game to overtime.

Forget the outcome of that game, he is clutch. The only reason you do not see this guy on the top of the points leaderboard for the MCLA is because he has only played seven games this season. While it is unclear what kept him out of these games, the last game he played was against Colorado State, a game in which he was knocked out early. Hopefully he will be back soon, but that shouldn't matter.

What really makes this team good is that losing their best player has not phased them. They still beat top-ranked CSU without him and held off a talented Chapman team. Freshman Joseph Sarjeant has filled the void left by Heberer and everyone has stepped up their game around him. Matt Graupmann is a scoring machine and Oliver Schmied has been playing consistent as well. Midfielder Tim Albo looks like Shaq out there. He is 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, but has the speed and quickness of a normal-sized human.

And you cannot forget their top midfielder, the legendary Brian Kovary. I was wine tasting in SLO county a few weeks ago and one of the pourers at the Hearst Winery was telling me how good Kovary was. I agreed and asked for another pour. So it's kind of a big deal when the wine bars are talking about you to the tourists. But I'm getting off topic.

They also play solid defense. Anchored around senior Tim DeSimone, they play disciplined team defense, changing things up based on the situation. The goalkeepers also play a major role in what makes keeping things smooth. Nick Czapala and Bo Dunnahoo-Kirsch split time. If one is playing poorly, they can just rely on the other guy. If one is playing out of his mind, they can keep him in the game.

If I had to point out a weakness in their game, it would be faceoffs. While they manage to pick up a lot of groudballs off the draw, they rarely win the clamp. They have seen moderate success at the X due to their tenacious midfield defense and longstick middies who wreak havoc on less-skilled faceoff specialists.

Marc Lea is Cal Poly lacrosse. While he took a brief break from the team a few years ago, he has been back and taken command of the team, making them a program to be reckoned with. He is calm, patient, and friendly. He is always willing to talk to me about the game even though he knows I am the enemy. He leaves everything on the field and is the coach that everyone wants to play for.

The Mustangs still have some tough games remaining, and they are not a shoe-in to win the WCLL, a conference that seems to improve every year. Assuming Cal Poly does not experience any upsets, they should have the top seed heading into nationals. That means they will have an easy first game, something that the other 15 teams will not have. If they keep playing the way they have been, I do not see any team beating them, not even BYU.

It's Cal Poly's national championship to lose.

To the games (where Nick is 28-17 and Jac is 24-21 after a rough week for Coyne)...

No. 17 Texas (4-2) at No. 23 Simon Fraser (5-6) – Sunday, 2 p.m. PT

COYNE: This game was actually swapped in at the last minute, replacing the UT-Oregon game, which would have been a slam dunk for both of us. This is especially true after the 'Horns rough homestand where they lost a pair of one goal games to a couple of MCLA middleweights (Arizona, Sonoma). This match-up holds slightly more mystery.

I think you all know my theories regarding the 'Double Down.' This weekend, Texas is not only doubling down with the Ducks and Clan, but Fraser is a miserable team to face in the second game because of the pressure it put on opponents' defenses with its wide open offense. It think Texas will get its goals, and will likely be leading at halftime, but the Longhorns will gas out in the four quarter, allowing the Clansmen to steal one, 15-13.

SCHOOLER: I have come down hard on Texas all season, but you have to feel bad for those guys after dropping ten spots in the polls after a horrific weekend. But while they dropped, teams with equally horrific weekends seemed to remain in place.

It is not like Texas is a bad team. I have seen them play and they definitely have the ability to take down one of the top teams, but they seem to be missing one small piece. It may be their weak schedule that has left them ill-prepared to play the best, but I see them coming out firing this weekend.

They will come up short against the Ducks, but they have the ability to contain Simon Fraser's star attackman Calvin Craig, and if the Jordan Lee plays to his potential in cage for the Longhorns, I see them winning 8-6.

No. 3 BYU (11-1) at No. 2 Colorado State (9-1) – Saturday 7 p.m.

COYNE: In last year's national semifinal game between these two teams, there was an instance that pretty much sums up this rivalry, which is undoubtedly the best in the MCLA. Just before a faceoff midway through the game, the Cougars bench called for a stick-check on CSU's Scott Gelston – the best faceoff man in the country, who was having his usual game at the dot. Incensed by the move, the Rams bench returned the favor, requesting a stick check on Gelston's BYU counterpart, setting off a yelling match between the two staffs.

You see, when these two teams meet, they not only want to win, but they want to get under each other's skin while they're doing it. Speaking with both coaches, there is a high level of respect for the other program, it's just that the two teams just have a deep-seeded dislike for one another, which is what ratchets up a rivalry.

I've tried to figure out a way to take Colorado State because I need to make up some ground, but everything is pointing at a Cougars win. BYU, 11-9.

SCHOOLER: Who doesn't look forward to this game every year? Historically these are probably the two most successful teams in the MCLA. I doubt there is a team in the MCLA that has a winning record against these guys. The Cougars own this matchup and for many of the reasons that Jac has mentioned, they will win this game, but it will be close throughout. I am sure that the Rams will have an answer for Ted Ferrin who is averaging an unprecedented 7 points per game, but look for the BYU middies to take over. BYU wins, 9-8.

No. 11 Virginia Tech (12-1) at No. 12 Clemson (13-3) – Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: Is this a preview of the SELC title game? Well, the seeds will have something to do with it, as well as teams like Georgia and Florida State, but I'm guessing one of these teams will be walking away with the AQ to Greenville. The Hokies appear to be reeling a little bit with losses to Buffalo and the need for three overtimes to subdue unranked UConn. Clemson has been on auto-pilot in four of the past five games, which includes a win over blood rival South Carolina, but the Tigers got waxed by UGA on Wednesday.

Both teams have strong offenses led by the conference player of the year candidates – Matt Giannelli and Kevin Hayden for VT; Chris Buechele for the Tigers – and adequate defenses to pull this game out. Clemson is probably the right pick playing at home, but I'm going to go on a hunch and take the Hokies in a narrow contest, 11-10.

SCHOOLER: Both teams suffered crushing defeats that not only hurt their moral, but also hurt their conference standing. They were supposed to be the new face of the SELC, but they fell right on their faces this week, each losing to lower ranked teams. The Hokies have a history of success while the Tigers do not. So in order to gain an at-large-bid to Nationals, Clemson has to win this game. Playing at home will help and Tigers will win, 9-8.

Coyne's Pick

No. 18 Northeastern (6-2) at Connecticut (5-1) – Saturday, 7 p.m.

COYNE: Connecticut is doing its best Buffalo impersonation from last year, and it's tough to not take the Huskies seriously, especially after the triple-overtime near miss to Virginia Tech. UConn was decent last year, with four losses by two goals or less, including to Boston College, Buffalo and this Northeastern squad, 8-6, on the road. It seems to reason that the Huskies might be primed for a signature win.

Let's not be hasty, however. The UConn schedule, for all of its wins, has been pretty soft to this point, Virginia Tech notwithstanding. Meanwhile, Northeastern has played three ranked teams beat two of them, including Boston College. That kind of experience pays off in these kinds of contests. Huskies...er...the Northeastern Huskies, 6-4.

SCHOOLER: Connecticut is a relatively new name to pop up in MCLA chatter, but it is well deserved. Until Tuesday, they were one of the last undefeated teams in the league. They put up a good fight against Virginia Tech, but came up short after three overtimes.

Now that they have made some noise, it is time to show the league that they are for real. While Northeastern is not the first name that comes to mind when thinking of the MCLA, they have had moderate success over the last ten years and have played very well this season, knocking off Boston College and playing a close game with Arizona State, but I am pulling for UConn. Huskies take this in a low scoring, defensive battle, 5-4.

Schooler's Pick

No. 13 Stanford (5-3) at Chico State (5-2) – Friday, 7 p.m. PT

SCHOOLER: Some have been questioning how Stanford is ranked this season. It is hard to describe what makes them good. They do not look great on film or on the field. The best I can say is that they are "awkwardly capable." But you cannot overlook them. They play hard and are disciplined, the sign of a great coach who knows how to get the most out of his players.

Chico State is the complete opposite. They can put up a lot of goals in a short period of time. They also run a zone defense that stifles opposing teams offenses.

Part of me wants to pick Stanford because I am a fan of how they play lacrosse, but it is always difficult for someone born and raised in Berkeley to pick Stanford for anything. So when given a tough choice like this, I will pick Chico, 10-7.

COYNE: This game will quietly be one of the best of the weekend. Primarily, it's because each is a very good defensive team. What will put even more importance on every possession will be this contest has huge implications in the WCLL. With only four teams making the league tournament, the loser of this game will be instantly behind the eight-ball.

It'll take a quarter for Stanford to find its leg after the drive to Chico, but the Cardinal will find its rhythm, thanks to a hat trick from underrated junior attackman Jack Farr. Stanford, 9-7.

Schooling Schooler Archive

Week Eight: The Problem With Polls
Week Seven: When Will Duluth Break Through?
Week Six: The MCLA's Internecine Snobbery
Week Five: Finally, the Buffaloes Stampede
Week Four: Spartans Make Their Stand
Week Three: Wither the Sun Devils?
Week Two: Nick's Bittersweet Weekend
Week One: Time to Feed the Ego

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