Weekend Watch: Improbable Impetus
by Jac Coyne | MCLA.us
LA CROSSE, Wis. – As his players jogged to the sideline after the first quarter against Dominican last week, Mike Allan squinted at the scoreboard and let out a sigh.
After just 15 minutes in San Rafael, the UC Santa Barbara coach saw the home score show nine goals and his Gauchos just one.
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“I had honestly already shifted into ‘moral victory mode,’” conceded Allan. “I told the team that we had 45 minutes to prove something to ourselves, and that I didn't care about the scoreboard.”
Allan referenced a game from his collegiate career at Princeton when, in 1992, the Tigers were on the business end of 10-0 halftime score against Virginia.
Then Princeton coach Bill Tierney stood in front of his team at the break.
“Coach T gave a great speech – as he tends to do – about playing with pride and that how we played in the second half would determine what kind of team we would be,” Allan said. “We ended up losing 12-9 and gained some confidence that would help us for the rest of the season.
“I was hoping for a similar response [against Dominican] that we could build on, but at the time, I didn't expect us to be able to come all the way back.”
Allan was hoping for the best, but that first quarter did not provide a ton of optimism.
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“You have to give a lot of credit to Dominican for starting fast and executing really well,” Allan said. “On our sideline, I'm not sure if it was an issue of bus legs or nerves, but we certainly were not playing at the pace that we needed to. Nothing was going our way.”
UCSB went into grind mode. The Gauchos “won” the second quarter, 4-3, to trim the halftime deficit to 12-5. Another “victory” in the third, 4-3, narrowed the gap to 15-9.
Good try. Good effort.
Wait. Hold on a minute.
UC Santa Barbara just scored the first three goals of the fourth quarter.
“There was definitely a shift when we got the score to 15-12,” said Allan. “All of a sudden it felt like, ‘Well, we've worked so hard to get back in the game, we might as well go win it.’”
Sure enough, three more markers tied the game, sending it into overtime where the Gauchos conjured the most improbable of victories.
UCSB went from suffering a major beatdown to amassing a perfect 4-0 record after beating Sonoma on Sunday. Allan's crew is now ranked No. 10 in the latest New Balance Division I Weekly Coaches poll.
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It’s the best start for the Gauchos since at least 2014 and its highest ranking in some time. Is Santa Barbara, one of the seminal giants in the MCLA, stretching its legs again in hopes of pursuing a third national title?
Allan likes the way his team is starting the season, but understands the road ahead.
“It might be a bit of encouragement for our guys, but I don't think that it means much,” he said. “It's still so early. It's nice to start 4-0, but our schedule is the same and we have some big challenges coming up. We've got plenty of things to improve on and our focus is to get better every day.”
The Gauchos get to rest this weekend in preparation for the next big test on Tuesday at home: No. 8 Concordia.
As the season moves along, we’ll find out whether UCSB’s miraculous win was just a footnote on the season or the impetus for a Gaucho resurgence.
GAMES I’M FOLLOWING
Denver at No. 22 Air Force Academy, Friday – 5 p.m.
Expectations for start-up MCLA programs have always been pretty low. A lot of teams take a little time to get up to speed because of any number of factors. Utah threw that concept out the window last spring on its way to a title in its first season. Can Denver replicate the feat?
The Pioneers will have to go through the Falcons to start off the journey. USAFA has shown they can hang with top-tier teams and would have to be considered a favorite. There aren’t any long-term implications with this result, just a curiosity factor.
No. 12 South Carolina at No. 2 Georgia Tech, Friday – 7 p.m.
A rematch of a championship game will always catch the eye. Last year, Georgia Tech won the regular season matchup before watching the Gamecocks raise both the SELC and MCLA trophies firsthand. Just like last year at this time, South Carolina’s scoring is down. And, unfortunately, solving offensive issues against the Yellow Jackets is not optimal. I expect a grinder.
No. 11 Chapman at No. 13 California, Friday – 7:30 p.m.
Four games into the season and the Bears have Ned Webster on quite a rollercoaster ride. Cal defeated both Concordia and Santa Clara, but fell to UCSB and Arizona. What team will it be on Friday night? Meanwhile, Chapman came out throwing haymakers in the Upper Midwest, so the rest of the league is well aware that the Panthers might be a different outfit than last year’s iteration. The faceoff dot will be critical.
BIG tilts this weekend in Minot.
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No. 3 Montana vs. No. 2 St. Thomas, Saturday – 11 a.m.
Minot, N.D., is the site of a two-day head-to-head matchup between Minnesota and Montana’s finest. This particular game features a pair of semifinalists from last year that couldn’t quite make it to the title bout. Short body of work for both programs so far, so this will answer some questions.
No. 14 Grand Canyon at No. 22 USC, Saturday – 12:15 p.m.
The Trojans have already burned off the majority of their non-conference slate, posting a 3-3 mark. Now the next objective is to qualify for the four-team SLC tournament in San Diego. It starts with the Lopes. If USC has an advantage, it’s the fact that they’ve played in six quality contests while this is the season-opener for Grand Canyon. Will the Lopes, who certainly have high expectations this season, be able to hit the ground running?
No. 16 Cal Poly at No. 8 Concordia, Saturday – 1 p.m.
A week after rolling BYU, Concordia ran into a piping hot goalie – Cal’s Zach Blake (28 saves) – to cool the positive Golden Eagle vibes. CUI has a chance to get back on the good foot against a Cal Poly team that is on a three-game skein. The Mustangs will have their hands full with Concordia still stinging and looking for redemption.
No. 13 Montana State vs. No. 18 Minn.-Duluth, Saturday – 2 p.m.
The other Saturday matchup in Minot doesn’t have the same cachet as the two semifinalists in the morning session, but ostensibly these two could be in Round Rock in May. Can the Bulldogs build off the narrow loss to NDSU? The Bobcats seemingly roll out a new under-the-radar star every year. Who will it be in ’23?
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No. 23 Utah Valley at NC State, Friday – 5 p.m.
The Wolverines are scoring quality committee points just by hopping the flight to Raleigh (and Columbia, S.C. the next day), so it’s already a positive trip. If UVU can handle a solid Wolfpack squad here, they can push all their chips into the middle against South Carolina on Saturday. If State pulls the upset, Chris Demarest’s outfit will be in the thick of the postseason hunt.
No. 19 Colorado State at No. 4 Liberty, Sunday – 12 p.m.
Another RMLC squad heads east, as Colorado State looks to start the process of returning to nationals for the first time since 2017. Wins over Wyoming and Nebraska have secured the border, but the Rams bump up a pay-grade with top-ranked Virginia Tech on Saturday and No. 4 Liberty on Sunday. Rankings would say CSU is a considerable underdog, so Colorado State should let it all hang out.
SLIDES & RIDES
- Early season polls are notoriously uneven. A lot of it has to do with the staggered start times of some of the top programs. For instance, Rhode Island will have six games under its belt before Grand Valley State has its first. It’s just the nature of the early season. With that said, the biggest oversight in this first weekly poll likely came from a contest falling through the cracks.
Coastal Carolina is ranked No. 21, with its only loss coming to Georgia Southern. Yet GSU couldn’t crack the Top 25. Granted, the Eagles’ schedule has sizable amount of Division I opponents that makes it tough to quantify. Still, that Feb. 4 win over the Chanticleers clearly got caught up in the wash. Fortunately, Georgia Southern gets to prove its mettle against No. 20 Miami on Saturday. A win there and the Eagles can’t be ignored.
- Congrats to UC San Diego sophomore Austin Ortel, who scored five goals and dished out five assists in the Tritons' 23-7 victory over Claremont on Tuesday evening. The 10-spot pushes the Alexandria, Va., native past the 100-point (40g, 64a) mark in just his 16th collegiate contest.
- As always, head coaches, get those award nominations to [email protected] by noon on Monday for consideration for the PEARL Goalie and Warrior Player of the Week in both divisions. Also, when the February schedule is complete for your teams, submit candidates for the MCLA Player of the Month.