There is only one team in the country that can say it has participated in every single MCLA Division II national tournament, and that's St. John's University. The Johnnies will be looking for their 12th-consecutive visit to the postseason (Division II started in 2005) this spring.
Can SJU navigate its way through a stacked Upper Midwest Lacrosse Conference and rugged non-conference schedule once again? Johnnies coach Derek Daehn buckles himself in for a spin on the MCLA.us "5 Questions" road course.
MCLA: There are some decent rivalries in MCLA Division II, but there's nothing like St. John's-St. Thomas, mostly because it transcends lacrosse to a certain degree. Obviously winning a national championship is at the top of your goals list, but where does beating St. Thomas fall in the pecking order?
DD: My goals are, in order:
- Win a national championship
- Beat St. Thomas
- Win the conference.
Usually if we beat St. Thomas, then we have a better chance to win the conference, although last year was the first time St. John's and St. Thomas didn't meet in the conference finals. It was frustrating for me because we didn't make it, but it shows the outstanding job [North Dakota State coach] Zach [Bosh] and NDSU have done to elevate their program in a short period of time.
MCLA: You're a Minn.-Duluth guy and now you've got to go head-to-head with your alma mater for the UMLC championship. Do you treasure the opportunity or is it no fun going up against your college squad?
DD: It's bittersweet to play Minn.-Duluth. Since they were a Division I team, I always pulled for them to win, but now that they are a Division II team, they are just another nationally ranked team when we play them. I will still root for them against any other team in our conference, but I have been at St. John's going on eight years. I only spent four at UMD, so I see myself as more of an St. John's guy.
MCLA: The Johnnies lost a solid senior class and will have to face a strengthened UMLC. Will you be the underdogs this year, or are there some guys ready to make some noise? Who are the new faces/under-the-radar guys on this year's squad who will be difference-makers?
DD: Yeah, we will be underdogs this year within our conference. We were ranked No. 3 in the preseason coaches poll and we did lose a very talented class. This year's team will need our senior midfield line of Jake Harmon, Jake Senta and Conlan Meade to provide the offense we lost. At times last year they were our best line when things were clicking and I expect them to carry the load.
It seems like North Dakota State and St. Thomas only got better with their new recruiting classes, so we will have some ground to make up. The one thing I can count on with my senior class is a work ethic, and their leadership will provide us a boost this year. We have a lot of talent eager to set up and it will be exciting to see which players make the leap from the end of fall to the spring. This is the time of year when players rise or fall on the depth chart.
MCLA: The St. John's program has the ability to say it has been to every MCLA Division II tournament, something no other program can do. Is that a point of pride for the players and program? Is it something you talk about with the team, or is it just understood?
DD: Making every national tournament since D2 has been in existence is a point of pride, but it is also an expectation within our program. We line up the best schedule possible, try to play our best and expect to compete for the national championship come May. It is frustrating to see teams in Division II make the tournament with a weak schedule or lack of effort to travel. With the addition of Minn.-Duluth, I am confident that the road to the national championship in Division II will go through the UMLC. Maybe other teams will catch on to the CCLA and want to play our conference every year.
MCLA: The UMLC will provide enough strength of schedule, but the Johnnies have never been afraid of tangling with the best teams in the division. Who are the top non-conference opponents on the docket this spring?
This year is no difference than years past. We have 5 out-of-conference games against top 15 teams. We will travel to Nashville to play Grand Valley State and Florida Gulf Coast, and then we will play the other top CCLA teams in Chicago -- Grove City, Indiana Tech and defending champion Dayton. I believe with our conference opponents, more than 50 percent of our schedule will be against ranked teams.
Our schedule is:
|Feb. 13||vs. MSU-Mankato (at Eden Prairie, Minn.)*||12 p.m.|
|Feb. 20||vs. Minn.-Duluth (at Edina, Minn.)*||5:30 p.m.|
|March 5||vs. Grand Valley State (at Nashville, Tenn.)||1:30 p.m.|
|March 6||vs. Florida Gulf Coast (at Nashville, Tenn.)||8:30 a.m.|
|March 15||at St. Cloud State*||6 p.m.|
|April 1||vs. Indiana Tech (at Northbrook Park, Ill.)||2 p.m.|
|April 2||vs. Grove City (at South Barrington, Ill.)||4:30 p.m.|
|April 3||vs. Dayton (at South Barrington, Ill.)||2 p.m.|
|April 8||St. Thomas*||8 p.m.|
|April 15||at North Dakota State*||8:30 p.m.|
|April 16||at North Dakota*||1 p.m.|
|April 17||Winona State*||1 p.m.|