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. We're continuing with Utah coach, Kyler Banks.
PREVIOUS CHECK INS: Virginia Tech | Montana | California | Florida Atlantic | Kansas State | Dayton | Air Force | UNC-Charlotte | Rhode Island | Long Beach State | Pittsburgh | Utah Valley | San Marcos | Loyola Marymount | Western Washington
Lacrosse can be a funny game if the ball doesn't bounce your way. Utah's first year back in D-I, the Utes lost the four conference games by a combined eight goals, including two one-goal setbacks. There was no game where you were outclassed all season. What positives can you draw from that? What lessons were learned for '24?
Kyler Banks: I think there were a lot of positives to take from last year. Moving from D-II to D-I, we did not have a full picture of what to expect, but our team really stepped up to the challenge despite our final record. It was a blow to the gut to go 0-4 in conference play, but with how close all the games were, it is hard to not feel encouraged by the end result.
The ball not bouncing our way was a great summary of last season. I recall in our game at Colorado, midfielder Tayler Sorensen took a shot that rang off the crossbar and bounced clear to the other restraining line where a CU attackman scooped up the GB for a crafty on-the-run finish. Little moments like these all season could have resulted in a very different end outcome.
But we surprised ourselves with our ability to compete at the highest level of MCLA lacrosse and we showed a tremendous amount of resilience. It was very encouraging to see that we can hang with top talent at the D-I level.
Holding BYU to a tight game, and making the game against Utah Valley respectable after being down early was extremely motivating given both team's success at the national championships.
A lot of the lessons learned last season center around the little things: staying composed, not forcing shots and getting past the initial imposter syndrome of being in a new division.
By my count, eligibility-wise, only three players weren't freshmen and sophomores in '23. And those three were juniors! What kind of jump do you envision for the program this year with a year of seasoning? Where have you set the expectations?
KB: We have been very fortunate to have a talented and driven group of young guys who really make up the core of our team. I envision a big jump for us this year and see us having a very successful season now that the majority of our team will be playing together for the third-straight year.
This year is really Round Rock or bust, and the guys have really instilled that mindset within themselves and have pushed themselves this fall. Trevor Douglis and Joey Chabola were an elite pairing at attack last year and they have only improved their chemistry and skill set this year.
We are also fortunate to return Aidan Wallace, who led our team in points in 2022 and was out almost all of last year with an injury, along our new additions at the attack position.
We return big midfield contributors in Owen Edwards, Ronny Redell and Dean Hives, who will make a big impact for us. Defensively we graduated the majority of our poles, but John Zins and Adam Oman have really stepped up to fill some big shoes. And the short-stick defensive midfield position has always been a great point of pride on our team, and Vincent Banks and Will Harvat have looked stellar through the fall.
Another big add to our team was the result of Whittier (Calif.) College closing down its program. We were fortunate to receive six guys from Whittier who wanted a new home where they could continue playing college lacrosse, and remain together. Kalwin Iha, Luke McElligot, Owen Wallace, Colin Warme, Caleb Warme and Dane Winslow have been welcomed additions to the Utes this year.
There looks like there are still a bunch of holdovers from the D-II title run in '22 returning this spring. How have they sustained the culture you're looking to build? Who are the guys the team looks for leadership in the tough times?
KB: The guys who helped us win the 2022 national championship have been instrumental in our success as a program. With most of them now juniors, they have done a phenomenal job of building a culture centered around both winning and having fun.
Dean Hives has been a captain for us since he arrived on campus and his selfless nature and great leadership has been a massive asset to us. Guys like Trevor Douglis and Owen Edwards are so fiercely competitive that it's contagious, and they push everyone to be better every day. The competitive and smack-talk-friendly environment that our championship holdovers have built is a big factor in our success and camaraderie as a team.
When their tenure is over, there will be big shoes to fill.
Non-conference strength is always a key to stay in the at-large hunt as well as for seeding. What kind of slate have you put together? Any interesting trips?
KB: We have made a point to get as many quality out-of-conference games as possible to strengthen our schedule and hopefully prepare us the MCLA national championship this year.
The goal is to win the RMLC and get an automatic bid to the tourney, but if things don't go our way, we have set up a great schedule to bolster our chances at an at-large bid. We will kick off our season at the Pac-12 Shootout, which is always extremely competitive, and we have a tough game against the boys up north in Simon Fraser.
We also have a second trip out west planned to visit Oregon, Oregon State and Washington State. In addition to our travel, we will be hosting Northeastern and Boise State at home, which have proven to be great, battle-tested teams.
You coach one of the few programs in the MCLA that has a varsity component. What's the relationship between the club and varsity program, if any? Is there mutual respect or interaction, or is it two completely different worlds?
KB: Coaching at a school that also has a varsity team has been both a blessing and a curse. It is amazing that we can piggyback on the varsity team's resources such as their field, goals, shot clocks and plowed fields in the winter. As we have continued to establish ourselves, our relationship with them has grown.
We had a “club walk-on” tryout this year that allowed my players a chance to showcase themselves and try to move up to the NCAA team, which was a fantastic opportunity. I also see it as a win-win in the sense that many talented kids are very interested in Utah and want to play lacrosse, but may not be at that skill level. Instead of turning them away completely, they can send the kids our way so they can attend a school they enjoy and continue playing the sport they love.
The curse element comes from the perception that people have about our program since we do have an NCAA program at our school. The hard work and accomplishments of our team have been diminished by those who think we have it easier because of our unique situation, which is simply not the case.
It can be tough on my guys when they work so hard just to be told that what they have achieved is lesser because of our varsity program being at the same school. For me, it is important that kids have the opportunity to play the sport they love at a high level, while also being able to be a college student and have a good life balance. We certainly are not, and have no intention of being, a feeder program for our NCAA team.
[Want to participate in the "Fall Check In" series as a coach or player? Email [email protected] to request your five questions]