It's fall ball season. Hope springs eternal. Everyone is 0-0 and in the hunt for the natty.
As such, we're checking in with programs across the country and divisions to see what's happening. Next on the docket is Division II Montana and the Grizzlies head coach, Tucker Sargent.
PREVIOUS CHECK INS: Virginia Tech
You ran into an obviously under-seeded Air Force team in the first round and didn’t get the result you wanted. After some time to think about it, other than the score, what were some critical points in that loss? What did you learn from that game?
Tucker Sargent: Unfortunately, I have spent a lot of time thinking about that game over the last few months and obviously, as a coach, you always question things you could have done differently.
Let me start by saying this: it was an incredible game between two very good teams and I wish we didn't meet in the first round. Both teams had a ton of talented players and it was just a really good back-and-forth game. Both us and Air Force exchanged blows and swapped leads many times during the game.
Unfortunately for us, the clock ran out at the wrong time. If the game was 55-minutes long, we would have won. If it was 63-minutes long, I felt like we could have had a chance to come back and win. We went up by two goals with about five minutes left in the game and the plan was to slow it down and burn some clock. But the ensuing faceoff was won cleanly by Air Force's stud faceoff guy and he ran the ball right down the middle, scored and gave that team a huge lift.
He then won the next faceoff and they scored shortly thereafter, tying the game with about three minutes to go. We had a really quality chance to score once the game was tied, but the goalie made a great save and sent the ball back down the other way and Air Force buried it. They won the face off again so we had to start taking some risks to cause a turn over that ended up letting them put the dagger in the game with around 30 seconds to go.
We won the final faceoff and almost scored, but time was not on our side and the history was written. Sorry for the long recap, you can see its still fresh in my mind. All that to say I don't know how much we could have done from a coach perspective. All our players played an incredible game and I am very proud of them.
Air Force's faceoff guy got hot and won some key faceoffs at a critical time of the game. I thought our guy at the X, Jace Jarvis, played his heart out. Maybe the Texas heat got to us and we weren't as conditioned as the cadets from the Academy. That's what we will take into this season.
We need to be prepared for a slugfest in the brutal Texas heat if we plan on getting back to Round Rock and accomplishing anything. It was a helluva game and Air Force deserved a higher seed. Like I said, I sure wish it was a 55 minute game on that day.
Montana graduated some quality players, led by Justin Renk, but it appears much of the roster returns intact. Could this year’s version of the Griz be better than last year?
TS: What an impossible question to answer. Ask any coach whose team has been together for two weeks in the fall where they are going to be in the spring, and if they give you a realistic projection that pans out, I'll buy you the finest whisky Montana has to offer.
Without a doubt, we lost guys to graduation who will be missed, but the most exciting part of this time of year is watching new guys fight to step up. I'll let you know how the season was in May.
Give us a couple of names in your incoming class that could potentially play a role for you this spring? How about a couple returners who might make the jump in ’24?
TS: Carson Burrill has been the Robin to Justin Renk's Batman the last two seasons. He’s probably one of the most underrated defensemen in the MCLA D-II. Watch out for him to step into the limelight.
Matthias Gruber is coming back this season to join our defensive unit after spending the last 12 months rehabbing an injury and is looking fitter and stronger than ever.
Our Oregon connection remains strong with the addition of Sully Kroeger, a midfielder from Grant High School in Portland. He'll be joining fellow Oregonians Peter Curran, Brody Stevens and Gavin Yeoumans, who have been prolific playmakers for us for the last few years.
Don't sleep on LSM Mason Slapper, another Oregon boy, who was the first-team PNCLL and Honorable Mention All-American, or Henry Hancock, who was a first-team PNCLL d-mid and Honorable Mention All-American, as well. Hancock can score and run for days. He’s a real throwback-style middie.
But the most interesting competition I have seen this fall has been between our returning goalie Hunter Heaston, who is the three-time PNCLL first-team goalie and a bevy of incoming freshman goaltenders led by Joey Cortner. Hunter has the resume and experience, but Joey and the rest of the goalies are hungry to prove themselves.
I tell the guys every day you're fighting for your jobs.
What’s the schedule look like? What are the key non-conference opponents? Any interesting trips or new opponents.
TS: After playing more games in the regular season than the eventual national champions did through their playoff run, we've scaled back the travel this year to just 13 regular season games to give the guys a little more rest.
No exciting new opponents that we haven't seen before, but we are continuing our rivalries against some of the best in the country. We are headed back to Minot, the lacrosse capitol of North Dakota, to play St. Thomas and Duluth in late February where the outside temperature is usually around -15 degrees.
And we are bringing lacrosse to Glendive, Mont., for the first time in history when we meet NDSU and St. Johns there in early April. Did you know Glendive is 30 minutes closer to St. Johns in Collegeville, Minn., than it is to the University of Montana in Missoula?
The PNCLL looks like it’ll be improved in ’24. College of Idaho, Northwest Nazarene and Western Washington should all make a run at your title. Could the PNCLL be a two-bid league this spring?
TS: The PNCLL could definitely make a case for a two-bid league this year. Honestly, I thought it deserved one last year with how talented Western Washington was, they just didn't play enough quality out of conference games to get the at large bid, but boy did they have some dynamic players.
Northwest Nazarene has taken giant steps every year since their inception and I expect them to do that again this year. I could see them surprising a lot of their opponents if they don't prepare properly.
And College of Idaho always seems to find incredible fire power. They got hit hard by the injury bug last year at the end that derailed their season, can they make it back to the top quickly? I would say so.
The path to the PNCLL championship is definitely not easy, nor given anymore. At least its being held in the best venue for college lacrosse: Washington-Grizzly Stadium in majestic Missoula, Montana.
What am I most excited about this season? Glad you asked. Without question playing with the lime green balls from PEARL Lacrosse. Who isn't pumped for a lime green ball whipping around the stadiums? It's going to look like a space war out there and I love space wars.
[Want to participate in the "Fall Check In" series as a coach or player? Email [email protected] to request your five questions]