by Jac Coyne | MCLA.us
Today is probably best known for being the deadline for submitting your taxes (although this year’s deadline is actually April 18, so relax, slacker), but for those of us who cover and enjoy lacrosse, it has far different meaning.
Today is the start of the second season.
When the opening whistle blows in the Lone Star Alliance quarterfinal matchup tonight between UT-Dallas and Dallas Baptist, the playoffs will have officially arrived. It will continue into the weekend with more LSA playoff games. A lot of the other conferences will have their tournament field set by Sunday, which is almost like a de facto playoff game. For instance, Saturday night’s game between Georgia and Ole Miss is tacitly a playoff game because the winner is in and the loser is out of the SELCs.
The second season – more specifically, the conference tournament season – is my favorite part of the year. Even more so than the championships. This was the case when I was covering the NCAA lower divisions for Lacrosse Magazine and is certainly true of the MCLA.
Conference tournaments are just more compelling than everything else for me. The regular season is a grind and the championship tournaments have always been formulaic for the most part when the best teams are involved. The league playoffs, however, hold the greatest possibility for drama.
Take the LSA Division I tourney, for example. If history is any indication, the winner of the AQ will likely be slotted as a 15th-seed at nationals and have a very difficult struggle ahead of them. The quest to grab that AQ is where the story lies.
SMU and Texas State are the obvious favorites to fight it out for the bid, but if Texas or North Texas can put together a perfect 60 minutes of lacrosse – no matter how many struggles they’ve had for the previous three months – they can alter the perception of their entire season.
Oklahoma has had an up and down season, but what if senior attackman Dylan Ikkala says to himself, “My season is not ending today,” and puts the Sooners on his back in an upset of Texas A&M? Or maybe it’s LSU sophomore goalie Thomas O’Brien who refuses to let his seniors finish their careers at TCU and stops everything thrown at him.
That’s the kind of drama that only conference playoffs can provide. It happens at a micro level, and many fans may not appreciate the finer details when they read the final scores, but that’s where it’s at for me. And it will happen in just about every conference.
Only 16 teams make it to Orange County, but there will be plenty of heroes among the programs that don’t make it. They will be made during the crucible of the conference tournament season. Will it be you?
No. 5 Colorado (8-4) at No. 6 Colorado State (10-2) – 2 p.m. Saturday
The top seed in the RMLC tourney is on the line in this annual classic, but these two don’t need any added incentive. Unlike last year, both of these outfits are already ticketed to nationals, so this is more about national seeding than anything. This is also an opportunity to lay down a marker because a second meeting in May is probably more likely than not. Getting a psychological edge can go a long way. Expect a grinder.
No. 1 Chapman (15-0) at No. 13 UC Santa Barbara (9-3) –3 p.m., Saturday
The Panthers and Gauchos have been sleepwalking through the SLC North slate in preparation for this showdown for the top seed. It’ll be interesting to see how well each team can ramp up the intensity against a quality opponent. UCSB outscored its last three opponents 52-4 – including two shutouts – while Chapman is just a shade behind at 53-6. Now they have to flip the switch. Who will do it better and, perhaps more importantly, quicker? Watch the game live HERE.
No. 14 Arizona State (5-5) at No. 7 Arizona (7-3) – 7 p.m., Saturday
This is a fascinating game. You have this massive rivalry, which always makes the game important, but there are so many other subplots. The primary subhead is if the Sun Devils upset the LaxCats, Arizona is out of the SLC conference tourney and UNLV is in. That’s not necessarily a death sentence in terms of nationals – especially with that high of a ranking – but UA isn’t going to get a lot of favors on Selection Sunday. If Arizona wins (by 21 goals or less), they get in with ASU, although they will still have a tough climb to the SLC title. This will be the game of the week.
No. 7 St. John’s (5-4) vs. No. 3 North Dakota State (9-1) – 8:15 p.m., Friday
With the schedule it plays, St. John’s will always be in the hunt for nationals. With a No. 7 ranking, they are looking pretty good this year, but, to be frank, they could use another quality win. They have a Top 5 win over Dayton, which is huge, and a Top 20 win over Indiana Tech, which is helpful. But that’s it. A win over the Bison would officially punch the ticket. That easier said than done, however, especially with NDSU legitimately eyeing a No. 2 seed if they continue to gobble up wins.
No. 5 Dayton (10-2) at No. 6 Grove City (7-2) – 3 p.m., Saturday
This tilt features a pair of teams comfortably into the national tournament, but still grappling for conference and national seeding. A Grove City win would cause a three-way tie with Lourdes atop the CCLA East division while a Dayton triumph would lock up the top seed for the Flyers. The winner of the CCLA tourney is likely to get a premium seed in May, so there’s plenty on the line in Grove City’s last go-around in the MCLA.
Florida Gulf Coast (5-5) at No. 13 Palm Beach Atlantic (9-2) – 7 p.m., Saturday
The top seed out of the SELC Southeast division is on the line when these two rivals meet. PBA has the added incentive of adding another quality win to its resume in case it can’t solve the Kennesaw State juggernaut in the conference playoffs. FGCU is going to need the automatic qualifier to get to Orange County, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. The Eagles have played a quality schedule, so they’ll know what to expect. FGCU has won the last three meetings in the rivalry.
(Photo by Sarah Miller)