Weekend Watch: The Next Niners
by Jac Coyne | MCLA.us
LA CROSSE, Wis. – The triple overtime game between Grand Valley State and Davenport in the 2012 semifinals still ranks as the most epic Division II tournament game of all time, but last year’s contest between UNC-Charlotte and the College of Idaho ranks as a close second.
The 49ers made history by posting the biggest upset in MCLA history with the win over the Yotes. Charlotte was the first No. 15 seed to take down a number two, and the program immediately put itself on the map after being somewhat under the radar for most of its existence.
But after the bid to nationals and the monumental upset, Charlotte has planted its flag.
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“The message to our players was simple: the foundation is set. Now we build,” said UNC-Charlotte coach Nick Nedvesky. “Last year we set a goal to give ourselves a chance to reach nationals. This year we compete for a national championship.
“Our leaders and returners last year have done such a great job of leading by example to the new additions and showcasing the culture we’ve built at Charlotte. We never take even a practice for granted, as I experienced the reality of how quickly a season can end. Every day is a new opportunity to get better at one thing, and that is something our coaching staff preaches daily.”
Despite losing MCLA Player of the Year Nick Ferens and his 102 points along with All-American goalie Noah Becker, the 49ers have reloaded. More importantly, Charlotte is deeper this year, according to Nedvesky.
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“The difference between this year’s team and last year’s team is depth,” he said. “We have added seven NCAA D-II transfers along with 12 new freshmen to bolster the depth for a deep run.
“When we got to the tournament last year, we were down to seven true offensive players. This year through four games, we have 13 players averaging more than a point a game and six defensemen with significant playing time. That is huge if you want to make a deep run in something like the MCLA tournament.”
After apprenticing under Becker, sophomore Cody Seaman has taken over the goalie duties. Transfers Blake Moxim and Tyler Nichols have slotted into the openings left by Ferens and fellow All-American Connor Hudson, combining for 39 points through four games. Three transfers have replaced the close defense that was wiped out by graduation.
The 49ers’ schedule isn’t stacked. Some fall bailouts have thinned the docket, but this weekend’s matchup against Bridgewater State and No. 11 Florida Gulf Coast is a perfect test as Charlotte ramps up for the postseason.
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“They know the task at hand and are excited for the opportunity this weekend,” Nedvesky said. “We want to play our best lacrosse at the right time, and that is during the playoffs.
“Starting this week, we now have at least one game per weekend every weekend until the ALC playoffs and there was a purpose to that. We want to play our best lacrosse when the stakes are the highest. With a lot of new players and transfers, it is fun to watch the team build every week and learn each other’s styles.”
The 49ers will never match the historic nature of the tournament win last year, but they can certainly send another message this year if their plans pan out.
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GAMES I’M FOLLOWING
No. 13 Dayton at No. 10 Grand Valley State, 7 p.m. – Friday
The race for the UMLC East top seed will get sorted out in Allendale this weekend as GVSU, Dayton and NDSU converge with this contest likely being the difference-maker. Each squad has already picked up a loss – the Lakers got clipped by Rhode Island while the Flyers fell short against Missouri State – but there’s a lot we don’t know about each team.
Regardless, GVSU and Dayton have been two of the most disciplined, tough and complete teams over the past decade, so it’s always interesting how the game shakes out. Potentially picking up the UMLC tourney first-round bye is a big reward for the winner.
No. 6 Kennesaw State at No. 14 Wake Forest, 7:30 p.m. – Friday
The SELC and ALC collide in Winston-Salem. Both teams are coming off losses to D-I foes – Kennesaw lost to Georgia Tech, the Demon Deacons fell to Auburn – but they’ll be better off for it. Both teams could use this win for at-large assistance if they can’t capture their respective tournament AQs. I expect a decent amount of scoring.
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Auburn at No. 7 Florida State, 8 p.m. – Saturday
How do the Seminoles respond to their first loss of the season? Putting aside last weekend, Auburn has played one of the toughest schedules in the country and they still have plenty at stake.
If the Tigers down FSU, they have a very good chance of grabbing the No. 2 seed in the SELC tournament and avoid a play-in game, so Florida State better be ready to roll. A win for the ‘Noles and they can get back to business of prepping for Round Rock.
New Hampshire at Connecticut, 1 p.m. – Saturday
After a month-long siesta, the Huskies are back in action against long-time rival UNH in lovely Storrs. Four of the five CLC squads make the conference tournament, so every game is important. The Wildcats would appear to have the more experienced squad at this point with six games under their belt, but you never know.
No. 17 Simon Fraser at No. 10 Brigham Young, 2 p.m. – Saturday
Tough to tell what Fraser has this year just three games in, including a pair of one-goal victories. We’ll know a lot more after tangling with the Cougars. BYU had its six-game winning streak halted by Liberty, but this could be the start of another important run.
No. 11 Florida Gulf Coast at No. 12 UNC-Charlotte, 11 a.m. - Sunday
Another SELC-ALC D-II crossover with plenty of implications. The Eagles have arguably the best goalie in the division while the 49ers have improved depth from a magical ’22 season. I like a defensive dogfight in this one.
No. 16 UC Santa Barbara at No. 9 Chapman, 1 p.m. – Sunday
Chapman entertains the Gauchos in the final non-conference game of the season for both teams. It’s too early to determine whether they both are favorites in their respective league, but they are certainly in the mix for that honor. The winner will be in a really nice spot for at-large consideration.
No. 12 San Diego State at No. 13 Arizona, 4 p.m. - Sunday
The Aztecs make the six-hour drive east with a chance to pick off a ranked win against a fatigued Arizona outfit. The Wildcats will play Oregon on Saturday while SDSU will just have to worry about bus legs. This is the last real road trip for the Aztecs, so if they take care of business, they will be in the driver’s seat the rest of the way.
SLIDES & RIDES
- The end of March means it’s time to start thinking about the postseason. Make sure your eligibility checks are complete and you’ve got the budget to make it to nationals if you get selected. Contact your conference leadership team if you have any questions.
- For the astute MCLA followers, you may have noticed I left Florida out of my “Reverb” column on Monday. That was a complete oversight and the Gators are certainly in at this point. Apologies for the omission.