by Alex Smith | MCLA.us
It’s playoff time in the MCLA. I love all the conference tournaments being held this weekend. Lots of drama and excitement as the season winds down.
I was lucky to be a part of six national championships here at Colorado State and one theme defined them all. Well, one tangible thing, anyway. The intangibles are a completely different story and each of our championship teams had something unique about them that made them special.
But the tangible thing I can point out about those teams comes down to one thing: defense. It’s not just a cliché. After all, defense does win championships. Our 2012 and 2013 teams were two of the historically great defenses in MCLA history. We allowed 14 goals over four games in the 2013 national tournament. That’s pretty good!
As a former goalie, I have an obvious affinity for great defensive play. I love it when people say that a team played “sloppy” against us or that the goalie got lucky making a bunch of saves. If people are saying that, then it means the team defense was getting the job done. And there is nothing better in my eyes than a dominant defense shutting down an explosive offense.
All great defenses have a great short stick defensive middie crew. Some call them “rope” units. I call them “monsters.” The ability to play solid defense with your shorties frees you up so much to do other things as a team. It’s not just their one-on-one ability. Special d-mids get groundballs, clear the rock and cover up for their teammates.
When I played at CSU, I had two great ones in Jared Katz and Kale Nelson. They were two of my best friends and they were my security blanket. I used to have marathon shooting sessions out on the lacrosse fields and Jared was the only one that would ever break out after a save. I think he liked that better than shooting (mostly because I ate him up all day back then and still would if he didn’t live in Jerusalem). I would just lob that puppy up into space and let him run under it. “What a pass!” people would say. But really it was an athlete making a play. I just served it up there for him.
During my years with the Outlaws, my favorite players on the team were always the d-middies. I had the opportunity to play with and coach guys like Benson Erwin, Casey Cittadino, Jarrett Park, Mike Ward, Kevin Unterstein and Jimmy Borrell. Those dudes were animals and as a goalie I knew the only person I really had to talk to was them. If the goalie and the d-mids were having a conversation, the defense was working well.
This year’s top defenses in the MCLA are likely headed up by guys you’ve never heard of. I was the head of the All-Conference awards in the RMLC this year and most of the positions were voted on pretty fairly and unbiased across the board. But the first place votes for the SSDMs almost all were split among the various teams.
While most people who are true fans of the sport already know to look for the monsters, I encourage those of you who are new to the sport to watch the guys with short sticks on defense. Most teams go as far as their d-mids take them.
So as teams hoist their championship hardware this weekend, chances are that the rope crew will be the reason why. Give ‘em a little love, eh?
On to the games...
Last week: 4-2 | Overall 22-7
Georgia 12, Florida 8 (UGA 13, UF 1)
Purdue 8, Indiana 7 (Indiana 11, Purdue 10)
Cal 7, Stanford 5 (Cal 7, Stanford 5)
Oregon 15, Oregon State 11 (Oregon 12, OSU 10)
UCSB 13, UNLV 8 (UCSB 13, UNLV 12)
UCONN 11, UNH 10 (UNH 10, UCONN 9)
Two teams punched their tickets to the MCLA Division I dance last weekend as Southern Methodist and Georgia Tech rolled in their conferences. The SMU faithful have been a vocal group about being underrated – even going so far as to call my column “garbage.” Ouch. They will have every opportunity to prove me (and the rest of the MCLA Twitter-atti) wrong with a game against a very highly ranked team in the first round of the tournament next week.
Georgia Tech’s performance in the SELC tournament was worthy of an eyebrow raise. Not just because they won it, but because of the convincing fashion in which they did. It’s too bad that Florida State did not have the opportunity to unseat the Jackets because that could have been a great game pitting FSU’s offense against GT’s D.
That said, we are on to tournament season for the rest of the country and by Sunday evening/Monday morning, we’ll know which teams will fight for the MCLA’s crown jewel. I’ll choose some of the tastier semifinals for my games this week as well as my picks for each conference’s automatic bid.
It’s been a quiet year for the CCLA. Teams really haven’t traveled particularly well and since Michigan State struggled through the early part of their schedule, there hasn’t been a lot to talk about. Davenport actually dropped a game to Pittsburgh earlier this season for the Panthers’ only loss. With the NAIA playoffs coming up next weekend, it’s going to be a tight squeeze for DU to play in the CCLA tourney, get to Greenville, S.C., for the NAIA’s and then back out to California on Tuesday for a first-round MCLA contest. The Spartans have been under the radar, so I’m going to pick them to beat out Davenport in the championship.
Predicted champion: MICHIGAN STATE
Indiana took down Purdue last week and Kansas has been lurking all season with a great record, but no opponents worth writing home about. Purdue’s road includes one extra game in the tournament quarterfinals, so if they are to unseat the Hoosiers, they’ll have to make it through an additional 60 minutes of lacrosse. I have it on good authority that Kansas is aiming to surprise some people this weekend, so keep an eye on those Jayhawks.
Predicted champion: INDIANA
I love this set-up in the great Northwest. Oregon is enjoying a big-time rebound year after a couple dark seasons. Washington is up and coming. Boise is a team ready to pounce. And Oregon State is still dangerous. Anything could happen, but I feel like the Ducks will be locked in and focused for their first round game against the Huskies after the shocker in the regular season. Boise has fallen off a bit since a strong start, but they still boast one of the country’s best all-around offensive players in Adam Smith. I like Oregon State to come out of the PNCLL, which could bump another team off the tournament bubble.
Oregon 18, Washington 11
Oregon State 14, Boise State 8
Predicted champion: OREGON STATE
You have to be excited for this rematch of a one-goal game between New Hampshire and Connecticut last weekend. While Boston College appears to be the frontrunner in the PCLL, either team will give them everything they want and more provided the Eagles get past Buffalo. All teams in the 8-15 range need BC to come out of this conference as the champion, because a win by the Wildcats or Huskies will burst another bubble. That said, in these rematch games, often the team that didn’t quite get it done the first time has a hard time in the second game as well. I’m going to take UNH in this semifinal and then BC in the championship.
New Hampshire 9, UConn 5
Predicted champion: BOSTON COLLEGE
The RMLC traditionally fields one of the best tournaments in the country and this year should be no different. Colorado weathered some tough results out of conference to sweep the RMLC regular season. Truthfully, the Buffs weren’t seriously challenged by anyone in conference and they rolled to the first seed. Their reward is a game against a dangerous Utah Valley team that put a scare into BYU last week and has knocked off a couple of quality teams this season. I like the Buffs in this one.
Colorado 16, Utah Valley 8
On the other side of the bracket, Colorado State faces BYU in a rematch of the Rams’ 10-6 win over the Cougars last month in Fort Collins. Watching that game in person, I was very much impressed at how the CSU defense played in control and made things difficult on BYU. CSU had last weekend off while BYU concluded their regular season and had graduation. I think the Cougars rebound slightly on the offensive end, but I still like the boys in green and gold to advance to the RMLC championship game.
Colorado State 12, BYU 9
Predicted champion: COLORADO STATE GOLDEN RAMS
As always, a great slate of games on Friday for the SLC powerhouses. Grand Canyon has been lying in wait for a couple weeks after sneaking past SDSU in a closer-than-expected game. The Gauchos had to work hard to beat UNLV. GCU looks like an easy favorite, but their uneven play means anything could happen. If we see the GCU that took it to Arizona State, they should cruise to the finals. If we see the team that sleep-walked its way in a close win over SDSU, the Gauchos will sneak through.
Grand Canyon 13, UCSB 8
In one of the best semifinal match-ups in the country, the Chapman Panthers take the field for the first time since Turkey-gate (sorry). ASU has run the gamut during the past several weeks and are tournament ready. Something tells me the Devils may have a little more on the line in this one and I’m going to pick an upset here. If the Devils are to win this one, they will need a stellar effort on the offensive end to crack an under-rated Chapman defense.
Arizona State 13, Chapman 12
Predicted champion: GRAND CANYON
The WCLL continues to be a gauntlet that will test the champion greatly. It seems like Cal Poly has been hibernating a bit. They crushed Stanford in early April and haven’t been seriously challenged since their last game against Sonoma, so I don’t expect the Mustangs to look past the boys from Rohnert Park. For the Seawolves, it’s been a slightly disappointing campaign and they are out of the at-large race. The only thing that gets them in are two wins this weekend.
For me, the really interesting game is on the other side of the bracket. Cal shocked Stanford last weekend in the Big Game, but this is the one that really counts. I’m not sure Stanford has the juice to get to the tournament with a loss in this game – or maybe at all without winning the AQ. Cal could be peaking at the right time as well. A little birdie told me that shooting wasn’t good for either team in the last game. I’ll take my source at his word that this one will be a little higher scoring, but I’ll keep leaning on the Bears one more time.
California 10, Stanford 8
Predicted champion: CAL POLY