March 28, 2013

Schooling Schooler: Appreciating a Truly National Organization

by Jac Coyne and Nick Schooler | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Georgia and stud attackman Trent Dean (above) are among the teams and players proving that the MCLA is lacrosse's truly national organization. The Bulldogs, which typically don't stray too far from home, are heading to Colorado in April to play No. 1 CSU and the second-ranked Buffs.
© Cecil Copeland

One of the more exciting aspects of the other divisions I cover — NCAA Division II and Division III men — is when a team travels out of its geographical region to play other teams. When Tufts travels to Stevenson, as it has done the past three years, it is typically the biggest day on the calendar. Dowling traveling to South Carolina to play Limestone, and Chestnut Hill testing the D-II California teams' mettle are also intriguing contests.

They draw attention because they happen so infrequently.

The regional format at the NCAA D-II and D-III levels puts a premium on playing nearby teams, accentuating the interesting level when programs from relatively distant proximities square off on the field. When compared to the MCLA, however, the excitement seems kind of silly.

That kind of stuff happens every weekend.

Sonoma State playing a pair of Virginia teams. Virginia Tech traveling to Colorado. Both Arizona State and Cal Poly leaving comfy weather for a February weekend in the Twin Cities. Arizona going to Canada to play Simon Fraser. Fraser leaving Canada for a trek to Michigan. Texas State heading to New England. The list goes on.

MCLA teams have always traveled well, but this year seems to be featuring a lot more teams leaving their comfort zones and testing themselves against quality opponents from other parts of the country. This could be just a perception, one heightened by the expanded itineraries of programs from the LSA and SELC — two conferences that, for the most part, stay home — but it says a lot about the players and coaches in the association.

Money is always tight, especially when you're paying your own way, but that hasn't stopped the MCLA from becoming the only true national organization for the sport of lacrosse. Those associated with it should be very proud of their efforts.

Nick, does it just seem like there is more travel this spring among MCLA teams or has the committee's decision to put a premium on high-end road games changed the dynamic? And what were the big trips during your tenure?

SCHOOLER: I don't think teams are traveling more than past seasons, but the travel is more east and west and north and south, so it may just seem that way.

Before this season, it was unheard of for a Southwestern team to travel to the cold Northeast in February or early March. A spring break trip to Utah or Colorado, where you knew you could get two high quality games, was a much more appealing option.

I think this multidirectional travel we're seeing now has occurred for two reasons:

First, there is more parity within the MCLA. With the emergence of the PCLL as a powerful conference, a trip to the Northeast can result in signature wins. The same can be said for the CCLA and SELC, making travel to the Midwest and Southeast much more appealing. The talent has risen in those conferences, making these big trips worth the money.

Second, with the creation of the MCLA national championships selection committee, it is very clear that trips not only of great distance, but also outside of the conference, were needed for bubble teams to make the cut. In talking with a member of the committee, I was told that in 2010, UC Santa Barbara was the last team out because while they played top teams from other conferences, their longest trip was to Arizona, and that was within the SLC. With that decision, the teams had to respond to remain competitive.

This is a great thing for the MCLA and I am very happy they have structured it this way. It really encourages teams to take advantage of what the MCLA has to offer — teams from all corners of the country.

In my playing days, we took our fair share of road trips that formed the basis for some of my favorite stories from college (that should probably not be repeated here).

With the WCLL, we played teams all over California and Arizona. We always started the season with a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area to play Cal and either Stanford or Sonoma. What most of the country does not understand is that it takes five hours to get to the Bay Area, so it is not a short trip. Road trips build team chemistry and since the majority of our team was from northern California, the games were basically home games. Gauchos outnumbered Cal fans at Kleeberger Field, making for some epic games.

We made the trip to Provo every other year. I will never forget spring break in Utah! That's where every college kid wants to spend their spring break. It even snowed during the game my junior year, something only one of our players had ever experienced before. But we came away with at least one quality win each year, so it was worth it.

There were trips to Arizona and San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange County, SLO and Vegas. But nothing tops our trip to Michigan. We played a round robin against Duluth, Michigan, and CSU, something I have written about before. It was our first chance at a rematch against the Rams, who had beat us in the national championship the year prior. We had just lost to Michigan 4-3, because the Wolverines threw a zone at us that was devastating and we weren't ready for it. So we took that zone and used it against CSU the following day. We shut them down and won the game. Michigan gave us our only loss that season as we went on to win our first national championship.

But something all of those games had in common was multiple dates against top-ranked teams. It is not worth it to travel if you are not getting anything in return. When teams in the Northeast complained about teams in the West not coming out to play them, I always argued that they should put together a round robin like Michigan did for us. That was a great experience, an awesome way to get three games in, and something teams looking to attract quality non-conference opponents should do.

On to the games, where the gap continues to narrow after another 4-1 week for Schooler, but Coyne is still leading, 26-14 to 23-17.

Northeastern (2-3) at No. 22 Pittsburgh (6-2) - Friday, 7 p.m.

COYNE: Pitt has put itself in a tight spot. After coughing up a 4-1 halftime lead against a Sonoma — a win that would have been hard to ignore come Selection Sunday — the Panthers need this game to remain anywhere near the bubble. Otherwise, it'll be CCLA automatic qualifier or bust. Meanwhile, Northeastern is building back up after its 0-3 adventure to California in February, moving to within a game of .500 with wins over Texas State and UNH.

The Huskies will have a large advantage at the faceoff dot, but Tyler Novotny (31g, 5a), Joe Grmusa (15g, 18a) and Matt Wolfe (9g, 5a) give Pitt an advantage on the offensive end. While a victory doesn't assure the Panthers anything, it should keep them in the discussions. Pitt plays with a little desperation during their last weekend at home, taking this one, 11-8.

SCHOOLER: The Huskies are young and good. Do not let their record fool you. They flew out to the West Coast early in the season in an attempt to get a win against a top-ranked team. They lost all three, but impressed me, but apparently not the voters, with their performance. They took two Top 10 programs to one-goal games and ran out of gas against UCSB in the fourth quarter.

The key for the Huskies will be shutting down Tyler Novotny. He is the team. Opponents that have contained Novotny, like Georgia Tech (1g, 0a) and Sonoma (2g, 1a), have won. Northeastern begins their climb back into the rankings with an 8-6 win.

No. 3 Colorado (10-0) at No. 6 BYU (11-1) - Saturday, 4 p.m. MT

COYNE: BYU is on quite a roll. There's no underselling what they were able to do against three strong programs earlier in the week. However, as I assess this game, I have to take a peek back to the Arizona State loss. Sure, we can chalk that up to one bad game, but I think there are some clues we can take from that contest that will help selecting a winner here.

Both Colorado and Arizona State are teams predicated on their defenses, and the Cougars had trouble solving the Sun Devils backline. Tying into this, BYU was able to jump out to substantial first quarter leads against Oregon (up 5-1 after 15 minutes), Cal (4-0) and Stanford (3-1), which allowed the Cougs to manage the game. That's not going to happen against Colorado. It's going to be a grinder, and that does not play to BYU strengths. The Buffs leave Provo with a 7-5 win.

SCHOOLER: Every season has its low point, and for the Cougars, that low point was their trip to Arizona. Nearly losing to Grand Canyon and getting handled by ASU must have left a bad taste in their mouths because they ripped through northern California, beating three top ten teams in three days.

If that is not great practice for nationals, I don't know what is. Should we just hand them the trophy? Probably not. Crazy things happen in the RMLC and the undefeated Buffs come to town this weekend. Can they knock off two undefeated teams in a row? I think the chances of that are likely. BYU wins, 9-8.

No. 25 Simon Fraser (5-4) at No. 24 Davenport (5-2) - Sunday, 2 p.m.

COYNE: Canada's team travels to Michigan to play a squad that operates with Canadian flair. The save percentages are going to be low and the shot totals high when these two meet on Easter Sunday. Fraser's Colton Dow (20g, 10a) and Sam Clare (18g, 7a) will square off with Jordan Richtsmeier (17g, 24a) and Dominic Baggiano (21g, 11a) to see who can put up the most goals, assists and style points.

Both teams will come into the contest a little tired as Davenport plays Indiana Tech for the WHAC Championship on Saturday while the Clansmen must contend with Michigan State. Fraser definitely gets the rougher end of that trade, allowing the Panthers to score the final three goals in an 18-15 victory.

SCHOOLER: This is a tough one for me. I have not been able to follow SFU very closely, but I have been impressed with what I have seen from Davenport. They have made a smooth transition to Division I and give hope to all of those teams hoping to make the move like Liberty.

I think this game will be close, but two tough games in row may be too much for the Clansmen to pull off this win. They may come out of this road trip with two losses, effectively knocking them out of the AL hunt for nationals. Panthers win, 10-8.

Schooler's Pick

Clemson (4-3) at No. 16 Georgia (9-0) - Friday, 7 p.m.

SCHOOLER: I picked this game because there seem to be very few intriguing games this weekend and because I think Clemson has a chance to win this game. Or at least that is what I was hoping Jac would think.

A young team led by senior Trent Dean, the Bulldogs will just get better as the season progresses. The Tigers are the opposite with three senior attackmen led by team captain James McLoughlin (14g, 11a). The key for Clemson will be controlling Dean, but I do not see that happening. 'Dogs win, 13-10.

COYNE: This one looks like an easy pick, with Georgia one of the six undefeated teams left in the Top 25 this week. The safe route is to go with the Bulldogs, especially with Dean (33g, 11a) hanging at least a hat trick on every team UGA has faced and David Lumsden operating a high level between the pipes. The Dawgs' hot start has me believing that their trip to Colorado in a couple of weeks won't be a complete whitewash.

Still, trap games come in different shapes and sizes, and this will be one for Georgia. The Tigers have spent the last two weeks game-planning this contest while UGA is undoubtedly taking a peek into April where three key conference games await along with the trip to the Rockies. Clemson's goalie tandem gets hot and pulls a stunner, 7-6.

Coyne's Pick

Florida State (9-4) at No. 18 Virginia Tech (7-4) - Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: The Seminoles have fallen of the grid ever since they dropped to 6-4 after the March 9 loss to unranked SMU, but Bill Harkins' squad is in a pretty nice spot. They've already assured themselves a berth in the SELC tournament regardless of how the Florida game turns out, so it's all about fine-tuning and making sure they are ready for a three-day run in late April. The Hokies are also pretty much assured of a berth in the league tourney, although they, unlike the 'Noles, have at-large potential.

This contest doesn't feature the frightening offenses these two have had in the past, although FSU appears as though it has hit its stride of late. South Carolina won't give Tech too much a problem on Friday night, but that tilt will take just enough out of the Hokies for the Seminoles to squeak past. 'Noles, 9-8.

SCHOOLER: Things started out well for the Seminoles this season. They were ranked until they got their world rocked by Boston College and Texas. They have experienced some success against the weaker teams, but that is just where they belong.

The Hokies are not going to win the national championship, but behind the play of Matt Giannelli (19g, 9a) and Preston Naslonski (29g, 0a), FSU does not stand a chance. Tech wins, 14-9.

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