February 5, 2013

Making Sense: UCSB in the Process of Regrouping

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


An upset loss to Stanford was not how UC Santa Barbara wanted to start the season. For head coach Mike Allan and the Gauchos, it's more about how much freshmen like Blake Samuel (above) learn from the setback.
© Nick Schooler

A high ranking in the weekly polls can be a double-edged sword.

When a team is near the top of the list, it's always a good thing. It means you've got a strong program usually coming off a solid season with a bunch of talent returning. It also tells prospective student-athletes that this is a serious outfit worthy of consideration. On the flip side, when a highly-rated team is toppled by a lower-ranked team, there is nowhere to hide.

Upsets resonate.

They resonate externally, but more dangerously, they have the ability to make an impact internally. That's what UC Santa Barbara head coach Mike Allan is dealing with after his formerly-No. 5 Gauchos were stunned by No. 20 Stanford in overtime last weekend.

How will Allan handle the setback with his troops?

"One of the things I told them after the game was we just have to commit to the process of getting better every day," Allan said on Monday. "Obviously, you don't want to lose the first one, but it's better than losing the last one. The process is getting better every day, not focusing on rankings or whether we were supposed to lose to Stanford or are we supposed to win this weekend or any of that junk. Just get better the next day."

Phrases such as "the process" and "getting better every day" give off a whiff of coaching claptrap, but Allan is consistent in his use of them. And, frankly, it's tough to argue with the success he's had during his two stints in Santa Barbara leaning on these maxims. Still, each season produces a different team, so these overarching principles have to be tailored on a yearly basis.

With a team missing a lot of the key ingredients from last season's run to a 13-4 record and a spot in the national quarterfinals, Allan has had to plug in new names into some key positions. This means "the process" will be a little different.

"Certain things work across the board, but the youth plays into that," Allan said. "Just having a young team, I thought we'd get better, but you have to gauge the reaction because you can't get too caught up in whatever everyone else is talking about. We're still figuring out some of the personality of our team and the personnel of our team. It's great to have competition at every spot, but you've got to be able to pick your guys and run with them a little bit. We'll keep getting better throughout the season."

One of the self-acknowledged flaws in Allan's process theory is that it is impossible to fully implement the concept until the players actually get on the field against players in different colored jerseys.

"It's hard to get a young team to realize the consequences until they see them," Allan said. "We don't beat them down for mistakes, but they start to realize that no one is going to give them the ball back like in practice. If you throw the ball away, it's gone. It's done. Hopefully that's a lesson that will carry over. The game against Stanford was all about ground balls and turnovers — the little things you talk about that are involved. I'm not sure it really sinks in for them until you see them first hand."

Through his previous coaching period at UCSB, which resulted in three national championships, along with his time as an assistant at Towson, Allan realizes that it's not just the coaching staff that can foster a team's ability to stick to the seasonal game plan. Team leaders have to play a role.

"You have to have a little bit of both," he said. "I try to lead the way and give them the message. We want to have the same message, so if the upperclassmen are keeping everyone calm and understand that we have plenty of opportunities coming up to improve, we'll be OK. A lot of our guys have been around and they've seen a lot of different coaches and seen a lot of situations. For them, being a calming influence and keeping everyone on task will be a good thing. The coaches hope to instill the message and hope the upperclassmen are carrying it through."

The potential for an even more turbulent start exists for the Gauchos. UCSB travels to No. 5 Cal Poly, a finalist last year, on Saturday before hosting No. 13 Cal on Sunday. Both of those teams are, on paper, better than Stanford, meaning an 0-3 start to the season isn't out of the realm of possibility.

For Allan, it's meaningless at this point of the season.

"I was watching film of last year's game with Cal Poly earlier and I realized that we were ranked 11th at that time," Allan said. "And I think last year we were a better team than that. This year, getting ranked so high, I don't know if I was certain about that ranking. I wasn't sure we earned that ranking. It's all based on speculation and all that. It all sorts itself out. If we focus on getting better, we'll get ourselves there."

Allan had just finished up with practice on Monday evening when he spoke about the Stanford contest. He was upbeat and pleased with the resiliency he saw from his players just moments before.

"Today, when we showed up for practice we touched briefly on the game and then asked them, 'Are you guys ready to move on and get better?' They said, 'Absolutely.'

"It was a resounding yes."

The Gauchos are hoping it was just another step in the process.

Coyne's Players of the Week

Last year, this space gave out game balls. This season, we'll get a little more specific, pinpointing one performance as worthy of that division's player of the week honors. Obviously, with NCAA Divisions II & III still warming up, this week will only feature the MCLA.

MCLA Division I – Peter Doyle, Stanford
It was going to take a special effort for No. 20 Stanford to shock No. 5 UC Santa Barbara, and Doyle, a rookie out of St. Ignatius (Calif.), put his best foot forward. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound middie scored five goals, helping Stanford edge the Gauchos in overtime and give the Cardinal some serious postseason credentials. Doyle also chipped in with four ground balls.

MCLA Division II – Mike Candler, Sam Houston State
Candler delivered with 20 saves in a 15-12 win against Texas A&M, an MCLA Division I program that was one of the few squads to hand the Sam Houston State a loss last year.

Power Fives

NCAA Division II
1. Dowling – The Golden Lions are heading into a hornets' nest in Gaffney for the opener. If they're not ready, it could get ugly.
2. Limestone – Impossible to have a trap game in the first contest of the season, but the Saints better not look past Tampa.
3. Merychurst – The Lakers' top points man (Brian Scheetz) had 46 points in '12. Playing in the ECAC, that should be in the 70s range.
4. Le Moyne – Still not sure whether the new rules will make the Dolphins more dangerous or less this spring.
5. Merrimack – The Warriors first game versus Limestone is still over a month away. Limestone will have played six games by then.

NCAA Division III
1. Salisbury – Most years, the Greensboro game is just an appetizer. This season, it will be an important developmental tool for the Gulls.
2. Cortland – Steve Beville expects his defense to be better than last year, when the Dragons allowed 5.86 goals per game. Yikes.
3. Stevenson – The Mustangs must be part vampire ("Vampirangs?"). Only three games on the schedule start before 6 p.m. this spring.
4. Cabrini – After its first six games, the Cavaliers could be No. 1 in the country. Or they could be 2-4 with a rough NCAA seed awaiting.
5. Stevens – With Tufts dealing with issues and RIT losing Brendan MacDonald, the Ducks are The Fives' "next man in."

MCLA Division I
1. Colorado State – As if the Rams needed another advantage, it has been unseasonably warm in the Rockies for outdoor practice.
2. Cal Poly – I thought I had the Mustangs low in my poll at No. 4, but the coaches started them sixth! Tough crowd.
3. Arizona State – They're still young, but the Devils might be the only team that can grind with CSU. Final would be 3-2.
4. BYU – The Cougars get the benefit of the doubt via their legacy. Nothing wrong with that. But this could be trying year.
5. Michigan State – The Spartans have always been enigmatic, but this year's version will be a complete mystery until mid-March.

MCLA Division II
1. St. Thomas – Two games in March? And 24 days apart? The Tommies schedule is strong enough, but still a little bit odd.
2. Grand Valley State – GVSU plays two very good Division I teams this year, and it wouldn't surprise me if the Lakers won both.
3. Dayton – The Flyers never played a huge schedule, but only eight regular season contests? And only five will matter? Dubious.
4. Westminster – With Colorado, Colorado State and BYU on the slate, the Griffins would have a Top 20 D-I schedule.
5. North Dakota State – Bison better be on their game from the jump because Indiana Tech is a team with healthy aspirations.


NCAA Division II: Questions still linger, but Limestone got all it needed out of the Duke scrimmage.
NCAA Division III: Albright's magical first season is over. Now it's time to face a new reality.
MCLA Division I: LSU doesn't get a lot of respect, but this might be the season to change all of that.
MCLA Division II: Little things can mean a lot. The D-II pollsters need to tighten their game.

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