by Jac Coyne | MCLA.us
LA CROSSE, Wis. – St. Thomas has created a unique role in Division II. Through its prolonged excellence, featuring six national championships, the Tommies are the gold standard by which everyone else measures themselves.
That’s why Montana was more than willing to make the 600-mile bus ride eastward to Minot, N.D. for a crack at UST.
The Grizzlies need to know how they stack up.
“If we want to be the best, we have to play the best,” said Montana coach Tucker Sargent. “We know they are very good and it will be a battle for the entire game.
“You have to believe that you are also good and remain calm, support each other no matter what and play your hardest. It’s early in the season; we will make mistakes. But don’t worry about that. Go play with your teammates and see what happens.”
What happened was the Griz raced out to a 4-2 lead to start the game and held on for a 10-8 victory over the top-ranked Tommies.
There was no magic potion to create the victory. Montana got the matchups they wanted and then saw who was the better team.
“We keyed on trying to slow down their top two middies and an attackman,” Sargent said. “We felt if we could contain them as best as we could, then let the rest of the team defense and goal play support those efforts. Then we could be in a good place to compete with their offense. They also don’t make a lot of mistakes, so the rare occasion they turn the ball over we had to make it count.”
They got it all done.
The Grizzlies handled the top team in the country. Montana is a lock for Round Rock before the clock strikes March.
It’s a good spot.
“The goal is to be No. 1 at the end of the season, as I’m sure it is for many of the other great teams in the league,” said Sargent. “Accolades are nice, but we know that we are getting everyone’s best game from here on out and we still have a lot of work to do as a team to accomplish our ultimate goal.
“Being ranked high in a poll certainly is a cool feeling, but this early in the season there are still a lot of unknowns about how good everyone is.”
The Grizzlies have pushed the biggest bully on the block into the corner.
For now, anyway.
The Tommies, and every other contender, now have Montana in the crosshairs.
Are they ready?
One of the greatest achievements of the MCLA, its founders, along with players and coaches past and present, has been bringing the sport to all corners of our great country. We are ambassadors of lacrosse outside of the fertile grounds of the East Coast.
This coming weekend, three MCLA programs are making a concerted effort to plant our sport’s flag in an area that has very little concept of lacrosse.
Fort Lewis, Southern Utah and Northern Arizona are playing games from Friday through Sunday (March 3-5) in a small town named Holbrook, Ariz. Holbrook, which boasts a population of less than 5,000, lies halfway between Flagstaff and the New Mexico border, right on the southern edge of Navajo nation.
“One of our players, Kyen Attakai, joined the team when he passed by our table one day on campus,” said Fort Lewis coach Tom Mudrak. “He and his friends watched lacrosse on TV and wanted to play, but didn't have it at their school, Holbrook High.
“So that is where we will be playing the games. We're hoping that playing the games in Holbrook and spreading the word will help spur some interest in northeastern Arizona and give the Holbrook community something to get excited about.”
The weekend starts Friday night when Northern Arizona battles Southern Utah before Fort Lewis tangles with SUU on Saturday. The weekend culminates with Fort Lewis facing NAU on Sunday afternoon.
The games will be streamed live on the Fort Lewis Instagram account.
MY TOP FIVES
1. Virginia Tech (6-0) – Aidan Smith is a problem.
2. UC Santa Barbara (4-0) – The Cal win looks better and better.
3. Georgia Tech (6-0) – So far, so good. The next two games are when it gets real.
4. Florida State (5-0) – Feel like the ‘Noles could have used this past weekend better.
5. Arizona (3-0) – Bunch of teams could be slotted here. We’ll give UA the nod for now.
1. Montana (5-0) – The Grizzlies’ schedule really is a thing of beauty.
2. Rhode Island (4-1) – Hanging around until the GVSU game in a couple of weeks.
3. UC San Diego (3-0) – Tritons should be 7-0 facing Montana on March 19.
4. Wake Forest (5-0) – Deacs hunker down for a three-week snooze. Bad timing.
5. Utah State (3-2) – I guess we’ll let the CoI win boost the Aggies for another week.
SNEAK PEEK AT THE WEEK
Tuesday night brings the clash between No. 8 Concordia and No. 10 UC Santa Barbara, but moving past that into March, this weekend will be large.
BYU takes its second journey, this time to the desert in hopes of stacking up some quality wins. Minnesota does the same in NorCal. Boston College flies to SoCal for a trio of ranked games. Cal takes a rare trip east to face No. 1 and No. 2 on back-to-back days in Atlanta.
In Division II, Dayton rumbles to life with a trip to Missouri while Friday night features a Big Sky showdown as Montana hosts Montana State in Missoula. As usual, there are plenty of conference contests to keep things spicy.
SLIDES & RIDES
- James Madison’s victory over Clemson comes after the Tigers drop out of the poll, but it’s still a build-block win for the Dukes. Last year was a chance for JMU to get its collective feet wet in the MCLA. This season is an opportunity to make some strides.
- Probably pretty safe to say that No. 23 Utah Valley will crack the Top 20 this week after a fruitful trip the Carolinas. The Wolverines ran over NC State before edging South Carolina, 10-9, on Saturday. UVU has put together one of the best schedules in the country, so passing this first test bodes well for a mid-May Texas trip.
- I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to write that the South subdivision of LSA Division I is the more powerful of the two at this point. And right now, it appears that SMU and LSU are on a collision course to determine who will be the top seed in the conference tourney. LSU edged defending LSA champ TCU on Saturday, 9-8, while SMU dropped the hammer on Texas, 16-7, in Austin. We’ll have to wait for a resolution, however, as the matchup is slated for Tax Day.
- I’ve still got eyes on San Diego State. The Aztecs breezed to a pair of wins, including a wipeout of No. 25 Dominican on the road. UC Santa Barbara up next…Kennesaw State won’t get much credit for wins over Vanderbilt and Missouri, but the Owls are clearly a contender…comparative scores mean nothing, but Bridgewater State did play Northeastern closer than URI. The Rams winning the CLC is no slam dunk.
- Congrats to Florida Atlantic senior attackman Drake Summers, who recently eclipsed the 100-point mark in his career. The Clearwater, Fla., product currently has 107 points (68g, 39a)…congrats to Georgia Tech, Montana and Baylor for qualifying for their respective conference tournaments before we hit March…Drury picked up its first win in program history, downing North Texas, 10-6.
- Head coaches’ nominations for weekly awards due by noon on Monday to [email protected]. Feel free to include MCLA Player of the Month nominations while you’re at it. Pollsters, ballots are open for Week 2 of the New Balance Coaches Poll and close Tuesday afternoon.