by Jac Coyne | MLCA.us
Like any in-season, multi-game, neutral-site event, the fun parts of this weekend’s nine-team extravaganza will be offset by many of the details that casual fans and parents have no idea about.
That’s why the games scores will represent just one part of the journey.
“The biggest challenge is always logistics,” said UConn coach Marc Paolini. “Getting prices for hotels, booking them, getting a coach bus and doing it on a tight budget. Planning not just where you are going to eat, but what time in relation to your games.”
The intricacies of getting from A to B are part of the process, but it must take place within the boundaries of a serious operation.
“You obviously are trying to win games on the field, but also making sure we are taking care of each other away from the field, doing the right things, and are always representing Northeastern University and this program in a positive manner,” said Huskies’ coach Chris Boland.
Having the trip be a positive experience for all involved requires the most important aspect of any well-run organization: communication.
“You want to make sure there is structure and as much consistency with your routine as if it was a home game so the players are focused on the games,” continued Boland. “It's easy to be distracted on a trip like this, so it's important for us as coaches to clearly communicate the expectations.”
Shaping expectations doesn’t always have to fall solely on the coaching staff.
“I'm lucky to have amazing team parents that help us out tremendously, but these are all decisions that the coaches and team officers have to make,” said Paolini.
Going to coastal Delaware for the Battle at the Beach isn’t a big deal for Liberty coach Kyle McQuillan.
“The neutral site doesn’t pose any additional challenges,” he said. “In my mind, it evens the playing field for both teams.”
Where McQuillan’s biggest concern falls is with the turnaround in games – a sentiment that every nationals qualifier can sympathize with.
“The biggest challenge with this tournament is the timing, and the fact we have two great opponents to play in such a short amount of time,” McQuillan said. “Having to play two games in less than 24 hours will be a test for our guys, to say the least.”
In terms of logistics, this trip to Delaware is business as usual for Michigan State, which already has trips to Minnesota, Pennslyvania and Northern California under its belt this spring.
“Given our location and lack of home games, our guys are very familiar with away games and neutral site games,” said Spartans coach Cam Holding. “Players all have their pregame rituals and they just have to stay prepared and focused on the job we must accomplish.”
When the teams do turn their attention to task at hand, this will not have the feel of a standard regular season games. A lot of the teams are brushing up their resumes for the MCLA selection committee in order to stay in the at-large hunt or get the best seed possible.
UConn’s game against Liberty will be the Huskies’ highest ranked non-conference game on the schedule, so a win is almost mandatory if at-large dreams are to stay viable.
They know it.
“I tell them you only get one chance at games like these,” Paolini said. “Winning is always paramount, and when you get the opportunity to play big games, you have to get the job done.”
Whereas UConn is playing its fourth game and its first against a rated team, the Flames are already six-games deep in the season with half coming against ranked competition.
As such, playing UConn and Michigan is about preparing for late April for the Flames.
“We just need to play our brand of lacrosse, play at a high level, and the rest will take care of itself,” McQuillan said. “We know that at the end of the day, the only way to guarantee a place at nationals is to win the SELC tournament, and this weekend will go a long way in helping us get prepared for that.”
Right now, Michigan State looks like they are in good shape to make the 2018 MCLA National Championships powered by Under Armour, whether it’s by an at-large or the Spartans seventh straight CCLA championship.
This allows Holding to keep the approach simple, and consistent with what he has been preaching all season.
“The message we have sent to our players is that these are two more games,” he said. “We have been trying to approach each game with the same mindset this season. We will continue to focus on what we can control on both ends of the field and leave everything on the field each game.”
Limited by the string of snowstorms that have crippled Greater Boston, Northeastern is just excited to get outside at this point with one game (against Division II Bridgewater State) played so far.
“Practices and lifts have been canceled, games canceled and rescheduled,” Boland said. :We have had to constantly adapt on the fly and the guys understand there is only so much we can control. Our focus isn't so much on our opponent but ourselves, and making sure we continue to get better so we are playing our best lacrosse in April and May.”
The Battle of the Beach holds different value for each of the nine teams, but there’s no question its an important even on the MCLA calendar.
2018 Battle at the Beach Schedule
5:00 PM - Liberty vs. UConn *
8:00 PM - East Carolina vs. Central Michigan
8:00 PM - Pitt vs. Northeastern *
12:00 PM - Virginia Tech vs. Northeastern
12:00 PM - Liberty vs. Michigan State
3:00 PM - Pitt vs. UConn
3:00 PM - East Carolina vs. Purdue
12:00 PM - Virginia Tech vs. Michigan State *
12:00 PM - UConn vs. Central Michigan
12:00 PM - Pittsburgh vs. Purdue
* - indicates game to be aired on Lacrosse Talk Radio