by Jac Coyne | MCLA.us
LA CROSSE, Wis. – Chris Southard has always been more than just a coach at Palm Beach Atlantic.
He started the program 15 years ago, brought it into the MCLA in 2008 and has built it into a regional power that has become a staple in the Top 25. All the while, he has taught, mentored and guided nearly a half-generation of Sailfish players with a relentlessly positive attitude and spiritual resolve.
And this will be Southard’s last year has head coach.
PBA is transitioning to NCAA Division II next season, and the athletic department has already hired a new head coach to see the program onto its next stage.
“It has been difficult at times, but I'm so proud of my guys and staff,” Southard said about the move. “They all want this final year to be special. They are committed to our theme for this final season: One team. One goal. Iron sharpens iron – Proverbs 27:17”
A quirk in the schedule has added another wrinkle. Every single MCLA game – including the three SELC divisional contests – will be on the road. It will certainly be a grind, but it's somewhat fitting in a way. At least for Southard, whose greatest memories are from the times when the sticks and whistles were put away.
“All of the off the field stuff: the cookouts at my house, road trips staying in massive homes. But mostly the individual conversations about faith and life,” Southard said. “Someone once asked a coach about how they're going to do in the upcoming season. He answered, ‘I'll let you know in five years.’ Helping the players become the great men they were created to be will always be my fondest treasure and memory.”
So far, the road warriors are 3-0 after rolling through a three-game road trip culminating in a wipeout of No. 25 Missouri State, 13-5. The quest will reconvene in early March when the No. 13 Sailfish play six games in seven days, including slugfests with No. 8 Duluth, No. 10 Grove City, No. 5 Dayton and No. 2 Grand Valley State in Knoxville.
It’s a daunting string of games, but PBA isn’t going soft in Southard’s last ride. This is the Sailfish’s last chance at an SELC championships and an MCLA tournament berth, so they are going for broke.
“We have great respect for all the teams we play on our spring break trip, but honestly I believe this is one of the most talented teams PBA has ever fielded,” Southard said. "So our job as a coaching staff – one that I am extremely proud to have standing with me – is to prepare them. After that the outcome of games is in Someone else's hands.”
Southard won’t disappear after this last ride. He’ll always be a part of the PBA tradition. Perhaps that’s why he’s seems so relaxed.
“I see him excited and refreshed this season,” said Jayson Schmidt, Southard’s long-time director of operations and now women’s coach at PBA. “He is excited to compete for a national championship in his final year with the best team he's ever fielded. And he's excited for the future. He's built a great relationship with [new coach Stephen Tempone] and plans to stick around on the men's side. And of course, he's always welcome to lend wisdom and encouragement with me on the women's side.”
Games of Note
No. 8 Minn.-Duluth at No. 7 St. John’s, 6:30 p.m. – Friday
The Bulldogs won this early season UMLC meeting last year, 11-7, although the Johnnies will be slight favorites playing in the Gagliardi Dome and with a slight ranking advantage. Normally I’d expect a grinder here, but this Brooks Armitage-led offense that St. John’s possesses has me wondering if the Johnnies are going to be a wide-open outfit in ’17.
No. 25 Missouri State vs. No. 3 North Dakota State, 9 p.m. – Friday
We’ll finally get a peek at NDSU – likely the biggest candidate to unseat St. Thomas outside of GVSU. All of the pieces are in place for the Bison to make another big run in the tourney, if not finally win the whole enchilada.
We talked a little about MoState last week, and the Bears managed a 1-2 weekend in Atlanta (along with some bus trouble). Now they are playing the Nos. 3, 7 and 8 squads in the country in a 37-hour span. Crazy, right? Crazy like a fox, as they won’t see a team anywhere close to the UMLC crew in the GRLC, which will help the Bears in their quest for the AQ. MoState might be 1-5 at the end of the weekend, but they may have prepped themselves for The OC.
No. 8 Arizona State at No. 5 Georgia Tech, 1 p.m. – Saturday
The Sun Devils ran into the FSU buzzsaw in the opener, but now they have a chance to bounce back with a Top 5 win against Georgia Tech. And, honestly, as Todd MacRobbie checks the tape and stat sheet of the Noles game, he has to be somewhat heartened. The Devils outshot FSU (36-27), dominated faceoffs (11-of-14) and held the opposition to six goals. ASU is going to win a lot of games with that formula.
Unfortunately, the Yellow Jackets have built their entire program on doing exactly what FSU did. If there was one team that was going to replicate what the Seminoles did, it’s Tech. With that said, the Wreck struggled at times against SMU, so this is a big test for last year’s semifinalist. Holland Frost might have to play savior for the Bugs.
No. 24 Southern Methodist at Texas, 1 p.m. – Saturday
Early indications are that SMU isn’t going to have the lockdown defense of a year ago, but Texas has far more to prove on Saturday. Yes, the win over the Aggies was a nice starter for the Horns, but this will provide a better benchmark. If UT wins, they’ll have to shut down last year’s LSA Offensive Player of the Year Nick Schultz.
No. 11 UC Santa Barbara at No. 2 Cal Poly, 1 p.m. – Saturday
From a macro point of view, the Gauchos are 2-1 with a win over a ranked team and an undefeated mark in their division. Looking at things at the micro level raises serious concern about the Cal game. UCSB looked outclassed by the Bears. To be fair, I think Cal is going to be a Top 5 team at some point this season, so maybe it’s no big deal. However, if the Gauchos get run off the field by Cal Poly, it might take a grind to get to the tournament. On the flip side, the Mustangs' 5-3 win over Simon Fraser on Thursday raised an eyebrow or two.
No. 22 La.-Lafayette vs. Appalachian State, 1 p.m. – Saturday
Because of the failure of others, La.-Lafayette didn’t get to pay off its LSA championship last year with a shot at the MCLA National Championships powered by Under Armour. If they can repeat the feat this spring, they will get an invite to the OC. How is that quest going? OK. ULL is undefeated in conference and nearly knocked off D-I LSU – a team that doubled up the Cajuns last year.
The Cajuns avoid Kennesaw State this year, which is probably a wise choice considering the 30-burger the Owls put on them in ’16, but they’ll still get tested. App State should be a contender for the SELC crown and Columbus State is always a handful. A clean sweep for the Cajuns and we can start making plans for Cali.
No. 9 Sierra Nevada at No. 17 UC Davis, 1 p.m. – Saturday
The Aggies didn’t appear to be in the same class with Southern Oregon or Fullerton last weekend, but they have a chance to inject some life in the season with an upset. Easier said than done, obviously, as Sierra Nevada hasn’t lost a WCLL game since entering the league.
No. 13 Oregon at No. 1 Chapman, 11 a.m. - Sunday
For the second straight year, the defending MCLA Division I champion wasn't able to make it out of February unscathed. And for a second straight year, it was an unranked team that knocked off the champs. And, like Grand Canyon last year, Chapman is going to be just fine. It takes some time to adjust to wearing the target, and that's the case with the Panthers. Oregon will be aiming for it on Sunday.
For all of the hand-wringing about losing offensive superstars Wesley Greason and Dylan Garner to injuries, Chapman's issues so far appear to be on the defensive side. The Panthers only allowed 12 goals or more twice last year, and now it has happened twice in two games. It'll be interesting to see the adjustments that are made for the Ducks.