by Jac Coyne | MCLA.us
LA CROSSE, Wis. – Last year’s trip to nationals was an eye-opening experience for Bridgewater State.
The whole trip to SoCal was a revelation, but getting a taste of what MCLA Division II lacrosse is like outside of the Mass-Conn-Rhodey tri-state area was probably the most important development. With the Bears longest regular season trip being to either Westfield or Bridgeport, they pretty much assured themselves a date with St. Thomas.
Too their credit, Bridgewater has opted to take a slightly more difficult – and more geographically diverse – road to SoCal this year. And it starts this weekend when the Bears travel just outside Harrisburg, Pa., to square up with No. 5 Dayton and No. 9 Grove City.
For Pat Welsh, the Bears’ coach, this trip is a return to traditional Bridgewater values.
“Playing two nationally ranked teams is new for the current iteration of the Bridgewater program, but 15 to 20 years ago, BSU lacrosse regularly made similar types of trips through the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic,” Welsh said. “The alumni from those teams have been vital in the health and maintenance of our program. This trip marks a return to those days.”
Similar to their matchup with St. Thomas last spring, the Bears will be heavy underdogs against the Flyers and Wolverines. And that’s just fine.
“While we hope and expect to come home with two wins this weekend, our team goals remain the same,” Welsh said. “They are to leave everything we have on the field on a given day and to use each game and practice to build toward playing for an MCLA national championship."
The Bears are in a bit of a pinch. They’ve lost the likes of leading scorer Andrew DaSilva and standout FOGO Steve Hogan, which leaves them considerably weaker at both spots. In addition, they’ve got two or three teams eyeballing the Bears’ PCLL automatic berth.
Bridgewater does bring back PCLL Defensive Player of the Year Joe Marmion in goal, along with an even blend of veterans, transfers and newcomers. Regardless of the starting lineup, the Bears have no intention of rescinding their dominance of their conference.
That’s why they’ll be in Central Pennslyvania this weekend.
Welsh will be letting his kids know that before they run out to play Dayton on Friday.
“My pregame speech will most likely focus us playing good solid fundamental lacrosse, maintaining possession and doing the little things,” Welsh said. “Those are season-long goals for our team. We believe that if we take care of those things, we can play with anybody in the country. This weekend is the beginning of a new chapter and season for BSU lacrosse while building on last year’s success and showing everyone that we are here to stay.”
Games of Note
No. 23 Minnesota at No. 18 Michigan State, 2:30 p.m. – Friday
The Golden Gophers dipped their toes into the CCLA pond with the Western Michigan victory. Now they’ll have to jump in with both…paws? When Minnesota switched conferences, this was the benchmark game (the Davenport tilt will be up there, as well). Michigan State – the six-time conference champions – comes out of its slumber to entertain the league up-and-comer. It’s a great storyline.
Obviously, this isn’t a must-win for either team. Both have enough schedule heft to stay in the at-large hunt if they don’t grab the AQ in April. The winner, however, is in a great spot. The ranking says Sparty is the favorite, but the Gophers have already played four games. Will Michigan State’s late start prove costly?
No. 11 Montana State at Utah State, 7 p.m. – Friday
This former RMLC-II rivalry is now just your garden variety interdivisional intraconference showdown. There's not much on the line for USU as they will find their success against the likes of Colorado, BYU, etc. The Bobcats will get a nice test to see if they are ready to defend their ranking among the D-II elites.
No. 16 Bridgewater State vs. No. 5 Dayton & No. 9 Grove City
As alluded to in the opener to this rambling internet column, Bridgewater State has already won by getting these games on the schedule. Heck, just playing the games might push the Bears out of the 16th seed. Obviously, they have far more ambitious plans this weekend, but we’ll have to see how that plays out.
On the other side, this will be a nice opener for the Flyers and Wolverines (they both play other PCLL programs this weekend that might not provide the competition level of BSU). Neither plays that many games – 10 for Dayton, nine for Grove City – so a weekend sweep is mandatory considering the heavyweights left on the schedule.
No. 12 Chapman at No. 8 California, 1 p.m. – Saturday
Big game for both teams. Chapman could obviously use a win to get a little normalcy back in their lives. California, a team on the rise, is looking for a signature win to officially announce its arrival as a legitimate contender. The rankings don’t necessarily bear this out, but this game might have the most riding on it.
No. 6 Colorado State at No. 5 Grand Canyon, 1 p.m. – Saturday
Both of these programs emerged from Thursday marquee matchups unscathed, so it's fitting they meet in a Saturday matchup that will essentially assure the winner a Top 4 seed in the MCLA National Championships powered by Under Armour. Not officially, but you know what I'm talking about. This is a championship seed game in February, and I doubt it will disappoint.
The Lopes ran all over Colorado on Thursday while Colorado stuffed the Sun Devils' offense in a box for 57 minutes. Defense usually wins out in these scenarios, but Grand Canyon showed a little '15 swagger with the Colorado win.
No. 4 Brigham Young vs. No. 1 Cal Poly, 4 p.m. – Saturday
Rated by combined ranking, this neutral site affair in Las Vegas is the game of the weekend in the MCLA. Further thickening the plot is the contrasting styles the opponents bring to the field. Cal Poly is the grinding, tempo-controlling outfit while BYU has traditionally tried to push the pace of play to red-line levels.
The last time BYU went toe-to-toe with a defensive juggernaut, the Cougars got bundled by Georgia Tech in the quarterfinals of last year’s tournament, 7-5. Cal Poly is eerily similar to that Yellow Jackets squad, so the onus will be on Matt Schneck and his staff to break the chains.
Long Beach at UC San Diego, 2 p.m. – Saturday
The Beach has played three games against SLC Division I squads in preparation for this conference opener, and managed to go 1-2 with a one- and two-goal loss. Both teams have designs on making the SLC tourney out of the South division, but only the winner of this one will have realistic hopes.
Gonzaga at College of Idaho, 12 p.m. – Sunday
Both of these squads are receiving votes in the poll, but this could legitimately be a preview of the PNCLL conference championship game. Southern Oregon and Western Washington are the ranked teams in the league, but this matchup might feature the most dangerous attacks. Don’t be surprised if these two combine for well over 30 goals considering their high-powered offenses.