by Jac Coyne | MCLA.us
LA CROSSE, Wis. – The start of the season was not optimum for Utah State.
The Aggies hosted divisional foe and start-up Utah in the season opener. Ranked No. 17 in the preseason poll, USU gave up six fourth-quarter goals in a 12-7 setback.
The following day, the Aggies got thumped by D-I Utah Valley, 23-8, in a game that was essentially over at halftime.
Morale was a bit low in Logan, but Utah State coach Scott Bingham tried to find a glimmer of positivity in the setbacks.
“Losing the first couple of games to start your season is always tough,” he said. “You've worked for so long and so hard and when you finally get to put your work to the test, you come up short. Playing Utah and Utah Valley showed us the weaknesses in our game and gave us the chance to set things right.”
Alas, awaiting the Aggies was a week-long foray to Minnesota to run a gauntlet of UMLC teams that few teams would be willing to undertake.
No. 8 North Dakota State, No. 12 St. John’s, No. 1 St. Thomas and No. 6 Minn.-Duluth all awaited. Four games in five days. Even at nationals you are unlikely to see four games of that stature.
Plus, at nationals you get an extra day to do it.
“Our attitude going into this was simple: everyone else expects us to lose, everyone else believes we're going to go 0-4, no one out there believes we can do this,” Bingham said. “There's no pressure on us to perform and we have nothing to lose.”
NDSU was first on the list Monday evening and the Aggies posted a surprisingly breezy victory. Four different players scored two goals apiece and Bostin Priesler turned away 13 shots in an 11-4 victory.
Did USU figure something out leading into the game?
“I don't think there was ever a ‘lightbulb’ moment going into the matchup with NDSU,” Bingham said. “We don't really care who the opponent is. We're going to play our game. We figured that if we can run with them, there's no reason we can't beat them. So we did.”
After a one-goal victory over St. John’s on Tuesday, the Aggies had Wednesday to regroup and ponder the eventuality of facing the defending national champion and top-ranked Tommies of St. Thomas.
With Utah State already guaranteed a split – results that would likely be regarded as the best-case scenario heading into the week – the Aggies were playing with house money.
“The road to a national title goes through the UMLC, and sitting at the top is St. Thomas,” Bingham said. “We'd passed the first couple of tests, but now it was time to face the kings.
“We still didn't feel any sort of pressure because we didn't have anything to prove. In our minds, the pressure was on the Tommies to show everyone else why they were number one. We were just there to play lacrosse.”
Utah State rallied from two-goals down to send the game into overtime tied at sevens. In the extra session, Hunter Combe’s second goal was the stunner that toppled the kings.
After our early game this morning, the boys volunteered at the @homegrownlax Introduction to Lacrosse Clinic at Conway Recreation Center. It was awesome to see so many excited young future lacrosse players being introduced to the game we love! #FutureToms #RollToms pic.twitter.com/EbvXPRvi2m
— University of St. Thomas Lacrosse (@TommiesLacrosse) February 26, 2022
All that was left was Duluth on Friday afternoon.
“Three games in and we're exhausted,” admitted Bingham. “The guys are all tired and beat up and worn out, but this was our last game in Minnesota. We asked them to give us everything and anything they had left. And they did.”
When the final whistle blew, the Aggies had doubled up the Bulldogs, 12-6.
“It never even crossed our minds that we'd end up 4-0,” added Bingham. “We would've been happy with a single win, but to come away with all four? We're still internalizing that.”
Well, they better enjoy it now, because Bingham has put together a schedule with very few breaks. Next weekend they entertain No. 14 Northern Arizona and No. 11 Montana State.
The conference game against Montana State is a monster for Utah State.
A loss to the Bobcats and the Aggies will likely miss the RMLC tournament. That won’t lock USU out of nationals, but it will certainly come into play in the seeding discussions.
Pretty much every guy on the roster will have to match the intensity of this unbelievable last week.
“Really every single player on our roster stepped up and did their part,” said Bingham. “We did this as a team. Even if no one else believed in Utah State, we did.”
MY TOP FIVES
1. Clemson (7-0) – The Tigers dismantled the Georgia Tech defense. No easy task.
2. Concordia-Irvine (3-0) – Road win at Cal will resonate all season.
3. Brigham Young (2-0) – A sweep this week in Cali will have Cougars moving up again.
4. Florida (6-0) – Next three games are when we really find out about the Gators.
5. Liberty (3-0) – We’ll put the Flames here for now, but it’s tentative.
Great weekend in the desert... #BearDown @SLCLacrosse @MCLA @VarsityLacrosse @vvlacrosse pic.twitter.com/awPdbQGya7
— Arizona Lacrosse (@UofAMensLax) February 28, 2022
1. Utah State (4-2) – I mean, come on.
2. College of Idaho (2-0) – The win over Utah looking better for the Yotes now.
3. Florida Gulf Coast (4-1) – I won’t ding them too bad for a ranked D-I road loss.
5. Rhode Island (3-0) – Not sure how long the Rams can ride that FAU win.
4. Kennesaw State (3-0) – I wish the Owls’ schedule had a little more weight.
SLIDES & RIDES
- Nice week for Palmetto State D-I squads. Clemson hammered both No. 13 Georgia (road) and No. 3 Georgia Tech (home) and South Carolina went to the desert and swept No. 6 Chapman and Grand Canyon. The season finale between these two is going to be a doozy.
- Cal looked pretty dominant at the beginning of the season, but Concordia-Irvine may have exposed the Bears Achille’s heel: faceoffs. Ned Webster’s crew had few answers for the CUI draw unit, resorting to run a pole out for seemingly most of the second half. It was a winnable game for Cal, but they mounted their comeback far too late. The Eagles now have a lot of momentum and appear to be the team to beat in SLC.
- What are we to take from Utah State rolling four UMLC teams in Minnesota during the week and then Missouri State taking two out of three this weekend in Springfield? We’re still early and admittedly there has been some atrophy for everyone over the last two years. Still, it does raise questions about the UMLC’s strength this year.
Granted, we haven’t seen Grand Valley State yet – a team USA Lacrosse deemed to be the top team in the country heading into the season – so maybe the pendulum will swing back with the Lakers’ entrance into the season. Or maybe D-II is just getting deeper?
NOTES: So, I’m starting to think that Oregon State might be the team to beat in the PNCLL now? What a wild D-I conference…How far are you willing to go to get a game? Air Force Academy traveled to Minnesota for a 6 a.m. start against No. 1 St. Thomas in their season opener. The Falcons lost, but that shows me something about the program…productive weekend for Arizona, taking down Colorado State and Chapman.
- As always, get those nominations for the Warrior Player of the Week and PEARL Goalie of the week to [email protected] by Monday morning. In addition, since we’re at the end of the month, send your nominations for the USA Lacrosse Player of the Month for February to the same address.