CALDWELL, Idaho - The College of Idaho had a breakout performance in just its second MCLA tournament last year. After an upset of Grand Valley State in the quarterfinals, the Yotes fell to powerhouse, and eventual national champion, St. Thomas, 18-7, in the semis.
The Yotes lost All-American attackman Ryan Henning, who transferred to Boise State. However, the COI does return most of their other talent, which includes Preseason Player of the Year Hank Ontiveros.
Head coach Matt Gier took time for Q & A:
DAVE FRANKLIN: What was the general vibe of to the team on the trip home from Utah after last years' tournament?
MATT GIER: The team was obviously frustrated with the end result of our run, mainly with our own performance. I would say our performance against St. Thomas was the worst we had played all year.
Even though they were frustrated, they were able to appreciate the journey and how a team from the PNCLL was able compete with some of the best in the MCLA.
Once the team was able to move past the frustration and appreciate the fact that we made it to the semifinals in only our second trip to nationals, it got them excited for the 2020 season to start. They were more than ready to put in the work to get back to the national stage.
DF: What impressed you most about St. Thomas?
MG: Their discipline really impressed me. Brian Gross had his team prepared and ready. His experience on the national stage clearly showed that day.
DF: Who stands out in your current freshman class?
MG: It’s hard to name a few because this freshman class is full of elite players. Many of them had NCAA and NAIA offers, but chose to stay close to home. I anticipate five or six of them competing for starting positions.
DF: Depth seemed to be an issue in the final four last year and your roster size from last season to this season has only increased slightly. Does that concern you at all?
MG: We are more well-rounded this year and have totally changed our style of play, which will help guys stay healthier all season long. I’m not concerned about it at all.
DF: How do you feel about how Cade Brown stacks up against the top goalies in the nation?
MG: Cade is an elite goalie and he continues to improve, which leaves me in awe. He makes our defense better and our offense better. In practice he never gives up an easy goal.
Cade had opportunities to play at quite a few colleges but I was able to keep him in Idaho. I honestly feel that Cade is the top goalie in MCLA DII and he has the work ethic and drive to prove it.
DF: Do you feel like the weekend of March 14 in Bozeman will be the most challenging regular season two-game stretch in program history?
MG: Absolutely. We have never played a Top 5 and Top 15 team in the same weekend. Both teams have phenomenal pedigree and NDSU still has players on their roster that won a national championship. We are really looking forward to it and it’s been the date circled on our calendar since this past summer.
DF: Were you pleased to hear that the tournament was returning to Utah this year?
MG: You bet I was! Traveling to Utah is closer than all of our PNCLL conference games, so I love the short bus ride. As you’ve seen by our schedule, we had an issue getting home games, so having the tournament in Utah again allowed me to schedule an extra trip during the regular season.
DF: How do you feel about Hank Ontiveros' work load and how Avyion Fisher can contribute both on and off the field from a leadership perspective?
MG: The 2019 season was my 10th season coaching at C of I and I’m still amazed at how I’m constantly learning, sometimes the hard way.
The most valuable thing I learned was that I need to better utilize all the talent on my roster. Hank took a staggering amount of face-offs, which I should have spread out to the rest of my talented face-off crew.
Avyion will be seeing a lot more reps and he’s ready for it. He’s a senior, lost 50 pounds and he’s faster and stronger than he’s been the last three seasons. Hank and Avyion will be leading our faceoff crew, but we’ve added some new faces to that mix that will turn some heads.
The Yotes will kick off the season this weekend when they entertain MCLA Division I Idaho on Saturday at noon.