by Simon Gondeck | MCLA.us
As part of his continuing coverage of the association for MCLA.us, Simon Gondeck caught up with new Northern Arizona co-coach Dan Conrad for a Q&A session about the Lumberjacks and other topics. Want to cover an MCLA conference for the site? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Simon Gondeck: How has the fall been?
Dan Conrad: There has been some change to our coaching staff recently. Our former head coach, Nick Adler, had to step down because he’s being transferred for work. We have added a new coach, Greyson Kupfer, who graduated from Notre Dame de Namur (NCAA Division II) in 2014.
He’s a great offensive mind and has added a spark to the offense this year. Since the head coach stepped down, we made the decision to have Greyson and I act as co-head coaches. Currently, we’re doing standard fall ball stuff and practicing three times a week. We have a Vegas tournament coming up this weekend where we play Boise State, Arizona State and UCLA.
SG: Last year, Northern Arizona went 13-2 with losses to UC Santa Cruz and eventual national champion Concordia-Irvine. What are you most excited about this season?
DC: Last year was historical for our program. We’re really happy with what happened; breaking the national Top 15 rankings for a few weeks and getting to the conference championship. What we’re most excited about is taking that next step and achieving our goals for the season
SG: What are NAU's goals?
DC: The goals are to win the SLC championship and get a bid to nationals. With our success last year, we want to build on that and make it further into the postseason.
SG: Any new teams on the schedule this year?
DC: We’re in the process of setting up a weekend in Denver to play Metro State, University of Providence (Mont.) and St. John’s (Minn.). We’re looking forward to playing nationally ranked teams to see where we stand in the MCLA and improve as a team.
SG: NAU returns its top six points producers from last season. How much of the season will depend on them?
DC: Having those guys back obviously helps. They are the backbone of our offense and helped control the flow of the game. That chemistry is still there from last year and we, as coaches, expect them to pick up where they left off.
SG: What about the defense?
DC: Compared to last year, our defense has only gotten deeper. We lost All-American long-stick midfielder Tilghman Tuebner, but we have younger guys who are ready to step up. We’ve also gotten some transfers in and some new guys. We expect our defense to get much, much better, especially the younger guys who got the opportunity to contribute quality minutes last year.
SG: What about goalie?
DC: Liam Birrell is one of our goalies. He’s a very vocal guy and people definitely look up to him on our team. Last year was his best year as he posted a 61.0 save percentage. We’re very excited for what Liam has in store for this season. We also got a new goalie this year in Alec Gastony. He is a sophomore who is actually a member of the Mexican national team. Alec will add depth to that position and our goalie situation is going to be great this year.
SG: You made the transition from Susquehanna (NCAA Division III) to St. Thomas. What surprised you the most about the MCLA?
DC: I didn’t know what to expect coming to St. Thomas my sophomore year in terms of style of play, the culture and the overall transition. I was really surprised because the MCLA is a very competitive league throughout. The players in the MCLA are very competitive and the competition level didn’t drop off at all when I made my transition.
That’s what really surprised me. Even though it’s club lacrosse, these guys still have the drive to win and want to be the best. That obviously has helped make the league what it is today.
SG: What is one thing that the MCLA is missing in terms of when you played and now coaching?
DC: Exposure. What people don’t know is that this is another opportunity to play at a competitive level. High school players often look down on the MCLA or don’t know about it. I didn’t know much about it until my senior year of high school.
Even though it’s a different league than the NCAA, it’s still a very competitive league. It’s great competition and great lacrosse that might not get the recognition it truly deserves.
SG: Any other thoughts?
DC: We’re excited. This is a transition period for us, but one of the main things that we are doing is instilling a culture that makes our guys really work for something. It’s going to be a lot of fun and we definitely have our eyes set on Salt Lake City this season.