by Jac Coyne | MCLA.us
LA CROSSE, Wis. – The start of the season is so close.
Before the fun begins, let’s take a look at ten pressing questions heading into the season.
1. Will the UMLC’s stranglehold on Division II lessen any?
Short answer: no.
Longer answer (or question, actually): well, what other team can remove the UMLC’s collective foot off the neck of Division II? Who is going to get to the semifinals instead of one of the UMLC’s contenders?
Six of the top 10 in the @Inside_Lacrosse @mcla D2 pre-season poll are from our proud conference. #UMLC19 #MCLA19 pic.twitter.com/JtA2jJN8jL
— UMLC (@UMLClax) December 17, 2018
Going by last year’s results, it’s quarterfinalists Florida Gulf Coast, Montana State or Kennesaw State. Maybe we can throw Cal State San Marcos into the mix.
Truthfully, FGCU was the only outfit that made a UMLC sweat a little in the quarterfinals when they pushed St. Thomas to the wire. All three of those teams should be solid again, but it’ll take a workable seed and a deep roster to change the UMLC narrative.
The UMLC epoch is upon us.
2. Can Michigan State and NDSU repeat the feat?
At first glance, both teams lose stud poles – Patrick Donovan for Michigan State, Evan Schraut for NDSU – but the cupboard isn’t bare for either squad. There are plenty of grizzled veterans on both sides to make a repeat a real possibility.
The Spartans will have a coaching change, which has the potential to upset the apple cart. However new coach (and former defensive coordinator) D.J. Lubs and former coach Cam Holding had a synergy that will make this change far more comfortable than if someone outside the program had taken the reins.
View this post on InstagramTime to walk the walk #viewsfromthetop #spartanswill #gogreen
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Other than potential championship hangover, the biggest threats to the Spartans and Bison are external. In addition to the newly stacked Continental Lacrosse League, State has put together a brutal schedule that could cost it a seed or two.
Similarly, NDSU has to deal with the UMLC -- a league in which they could easily be a No. 5 seed in its own conference tournament.
If neither team wins it, smart money says the eventual champion will have to go through these two at some point.
3. The SELC-I had its best season ever in ’18? What’s in store this spring?
Considering the depth of quality teams, things are looking pretty good for another epic season. The question is which team will be the bell cow.
Last year, it was South Carolina, which emerged out of relative obscurity to make a run to the national semifinals – the third straight year the SELC sent a team to the final four. The Gamecocks ability to back up that performance will be a storyline to follow in ’19.
South Carolina had its best season in program history in '18. What does the '19 campaign hold for the Gamecocks? #mcla19
— MCLA Tournament '19 (@MCLA_Tournament) October 9, 2018
Regardless, Georgia Tech, which squeezed into nationals last spring, should be improved while Liberty and defending conference champion Virginia Tech will likely be the flagbearers.
The second tier, comprised currently of Clemson, Florida, Florida State and Georgia, could also further strengthen the SELC’s national credibility.
4. What teams have the best shot at being first-time national qualifiers?
In Division I, I’d put Clemson on the list, especially with the Tigers taking a trip to Colorado this spring. Davenport has been flirting with D-I qualification (they won a national title in MCLA-II) and the Panthers could make use of their new conference.
Santa Clara is a team on the rise and could be a threat in the WCLL and perhaps as an at-large.
View this post on InstagramCongratulations to Garret Brennan on being named an All American after leading the MCLA in points this season
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Northern Arizona was just on the outside looking in last spring and leads the Division II first-time contingent. UC San Diego, also out of the SLC, could flirt with a visit, too.
Wake Forest, North Florida, Colorado Denver and Providence could also have their debutante ball in May, as well.
5. What teams are ready for a rebound?
Colorado State and Arizona State met in the first round of both the 2016 and ’17 nationals and then both completely missed the tourney last spring. These two “name” MCLA franchises have been inextricably linked the last three seasons, and history would say they are due to get back on the good foot.
The Rams and Sun Devils meet on Feb. 28 in the desert in what should be a classic.
View this post on InstagramCongrats to the 2018 Sun Devil Box Tournament Champions - Team GOLD! #forksup
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In Division II, Dayton is due for a bounce back after a pedestrian campaign that saw them barely make it to nationals and then get waxed in the first round by Montana State.
Joe Venturella is too good of a coach and there is too much tradition with that program for last year to be the new normal. Expect the Flyers to re-announce their presence this spring.
6. Can the CLC be the next Division I power conference?
It already has the defending national champion, which is a great start. Add a deep crew of former PCLL teams and you’ve got a pretty spicy league.
Does it instantly catch up to the SLC, which is the current standard bearer? No. It’s still a step behind, but is certainly more powerful than the depleted RMLC.
Boston College Unveils Schedule | https://t.co/cE8y7PlqWY #mcla19 pic.twitter.com/mroooynf4a
— MCLA (@MCLA) November 26, 2018
Depending on how you weight national championships, the CLC is probably neck-and-neck with the SELC and WCLL in terms of depth and strength.
7. What teams are under the most pressure?
The default answer here is the defending national championships, but I’m going to saddle a couple of different teams.
In a bit of a coup, Minnesota managed to untangle itself from the CLC and its crushing travel budget and hopped into the bus-friendly UMLC.
4568 miles of travel
We have a loaded schedule for 2019! #MaroonandGold #MCLA pic.twitter.com/dOeuGpLrrB
— Minnesota Men’s Lacrosse (@UMNLacrosse) December 15, 2018
Right now, the Golden Gophers look like favorites to win the league in the first year despite the presence of defending UMLC Indiana and a strong Missouri outfit. That’s some serious pressure for a team that hasn’t been to nationals since ’05.
In Division II, Dayton has to be feeling a bit of pressure. Not to say Venturella is on the hot seat – he’s definitely not – and there’s no shame in being the sixth team in the UMLC.
Dayton is a legendary D-II program with a championship to its name and the third most wins in MCLA-II tournament history, however. That kind of pedigree feeds expectations, so don’t be surprised if the Flyers have an edge to them in ’19.
8. Can Texas A&M get the LSA to the next level?
We’ve had 22 Division I national championships and we’re still waiting for the Lone Star Alliance to send a team to the semifinals. As a conference, the LSA is 2-22 at nationals with Texas A&M accounting for both wins (2000, ’03).
The Aggies are the defending conference champions and return a boatload of talent to College Station this spring. Is the potential there to reach the final four?
As any savvy MCLA follower knows, half the battle in getting to Thursday is having a seed that allows for it. For the most part, the LSA has been slotted in the Nos. 14-16 range, which means they’re drawing one of the best teams in the country in the first round.
honestly I’m breathless rn Scaz really didn’t have to snap this hard:
-super alpha visor
-flexxed up stance
-pants without 20 pockets https://t.co/4SFHnGtJLM
— Texas A&M Men's Lax (@TexasAggieLax) October 9, 2018
I wouldn’t call A&M’s schedule “loaded,” but the Aggies have trips to the SELC and RMLC that could make A&M upwardly mobile if they get the right wins.
Obviously, winning the conference is the top priority, which won’t be easy with Texas and Oklahoma looking frisky. As to the original question, LSA will break through at some point, but I’m not sure if this will necessarily be the year.
9. What are the most intriguing coaching changes?
Michigan State turning to D.J. Lubs is an obvious choice as all eyes will be on the defending champions. My pick is Jesse Foss going to Concordia-Irvine.
Foss was doing a nice job at San Diego State and the Aztecs should be solid this year, but in terms of talent, Foss has upgraded from a comfortable, mid-size sedan to a sports car. The Eagles are stacked and with Foss at the helm, this could be a special year in Irvine.
Oregon, Boise State, Oregon State, Arizona State, Claremont, Florida State, LSU, Northeastern, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Stanford, USC and San Diego State also have new skippers.
In Division II, Will Lawlor at Northern Arizona has a chance to make a big impact with a quality team.
Colorado-Denver and MSU-Denver both have new coaches that could pay off in the postseason.
10. What will be the biggest storyline of the 2019 season?
I had initially penciled in “new rules” under this subject line, but I’m starting to think – hope? – that the hard shot clock and other changes will be met with typical MCLA resiliency.
What will really be the season-long drama is how the tournament fields in both divisions are going to be comprised. For the first time since the Division I national field expanded to 16 teams in 2001, there will be more at-large selections than automatic qualifiers.
With the PCLL and CCLA joining to form the CLC and the RMLC dipping below the threshold needed to keep an AQ, there will be nine at-large selections and seven conference auto-qualifiers this spring.
This is going to make for some fantastic cross-conference races and put a huge weight on February and March non-conference games that the committee will lean on to make decisions in May.
That Stanford vs. Arizona game at the Pac-12 shootout in mid-February? Yeah, that’s going to matter, whether it’s as a win for one of the teams or assessing the overall strength of the WCLL and SLC.
Every game is going to have some significance.
It will be the case in Division II, as well. While D-II is split evenly between at-larges and AQs, the same type of games will be in play. More importantly, seeding will be up for grabs, as well. As we know, that’s just as important in May as how a team is playing.
So get ready. We’re about to start this thing and it’s going to be a fun ride.