There’s something very special about how the postseason works in the MCLA. If a team is fortunate enough to make their conference playoffs, they’ll take off to one central location somewhere in their region. Their they’ll meet up with anywhere from three to seven other teams to figure out who gets the automatic qualifier for the big show. Two or three wins later, they’re booking their trips to Southern California.
Last week, 32 teams, equally divided between the two divisions, from 19 different states, made their way to Orange County for National Championship week. There’s really nothing like it in the college lacrosse world. Starting on Monday, teams give everything they’ve got to fight their way through the bracket in an attempt of raising one of two trophies come Saturday afternoon. Guys have to figure out how to move schoolwork around because of the absence and even raise funds almost overnight to make the travel possible in the first place. If teams stick around, they can play in non-competitive consolation games. If not, they’re chugging back to where ever they came from.
Let’s look back and celebrate the last tournament in SoCal, before the events heads up to Salt Lake City for the next few years.
Michigan State 8 vs BYU 10
Northeastern 6 vs Grand Canyon 18
Florida State 11 vs Colorado 12 3OT
Southern Methodist 11 vs Georgia Tech 14
Virginia Tech 9 vs Cal Poly 5
Oregon 6 vs California 9
Colorado State 9 vs Arizona State 10
Chapman 9 vs Utah 8 OT
Like we predicted in the preview post, these first round games were, for the most part, closer than any year in the past. All but two of the games were decided by three goals or less. After a 6-0 run in the second quarter, BYU almost gave the game back to Sparty with a 0-4 fourth. Following the storm the LSA was causing, SMU did not disappoint in a shootout with the MCLA’s former top squad. It looked like Cal Poly was the team to beat after besting Cal twice to end the season, but Hokies fired out to an early lead and the Mustangs couldn’t win a single quarter of their own. Oregon couldn’t carry the momentum from their PNCLL domination past the powerful Golden Bears, only putting up a single goal in the entire first half. Cal’s first win was bolstered by former McDonogh goaltender Bert Schmickel, sniffing out over 66% of what the dynamic Ducks offense threw at him. In years past, Colorado State vs Arizona State is a game that we could have expected to hear come Saturday. The 2017 first round match-up did not disappoint. The Sun Devils fired off to a quick and furious 5-0 start, outshooting 16-2 shots on goal. From there the Rams started swinging back and got the score within two at the half. Goals were exchanged each ways in an absolute nail-biter, but after getting the game within one goal, ASU was able to hold onto their lead for the win.
Not all of the games could even get settled in 60 minutes. After a beautiful back and forth battle, also worthy of a championship itself, Utah and Chapman couldn’t figure it out. In extra minutes, the Utes took two unfortunate flags on one player, and Chapman used the opportunity to work the ball around, find the defense off-balance, and sling in the game-winner. After the majority of the SELC stayed under the radar all season, the Seminoles took on Orange County with a chip on their shoulders. They took one of the top teams in the nation, Colorado, through two full overtimes, taking a third to decide a winner. With thirty something seconds left, and after a dozen or so world-class plays from both teams, the Buffs founder their shooter in position to seal the deal. The only game to not raise many eyebrows was Grand Canyon’s beatdown on Northeastern, other than watching the Lopes offense go off. There wasn’t much time to reflect on the day for anyone. After it was all said and done, the winners had to turnaround and do it again the next day.
Chapman 14, BYU 5
Arizona State 6, Grand Canyon 9
California 12, Colorado 11
Virginia Tech 3, Georgia Tech 10
I don’t think many MCLA followers to expect top-seeded BYU to get worked so badly by Chaptown, a team that really rode the rollercoaster this year. The Panthers put the pedal to the metal right away and exploited the same weakness BYU featured in the Michigan State game. The plan was to put rubber on the cage and Junior attackman Dylan Garner took it upon himself to lead the show. Garner punched in 5 goals past the Cougar’s all-star backstopper, Mason Moon, to earn a spot in the semis. The SELC showdown between the Techs was even more lackluster. The two met just weeks ago in the first round of the conference playoffs, where the Yellow Jackets pulled off a much closer, 8-6, win. This time, only three different Hokies could get on the board against the constant hammering from Georgia Tech across the entire field.
The two others were much more entertaining. Grand Canyon jumped out to an early lead, ahead 3-1 after the first quarter, but Arizona State never gave up. They exchanged a trio of goals in the second, and a pair in the third, with the Lopes still hanging onto that two goal lead. The comeback was in sight, but goaltender Alex Larson made 6 big saves in the final frame to save the day, while his guys connected on their only shot on goal. Colorado could have walked away from Orange County with the hardware, if it wasn’t for such a grueling path. After a triple overtime game on Monday, they had to go nose to nose with the Cal Bears of all teams. The game hopped off to a bit of a slow start, with both teams not heating up much until the half neared. The Bears were up by a goal at the break, but the Buffs stormed out and fired in 5 goals, allowing one, in the third quarter. Up 9 to 6, all momentum was in favor of Colorado, but Berkeley has other plans, turning the tables and connecting on 5 goals of their own. The Buffs kept footing and were able to hold on with two of their own. That’s right, overtime again. Goaltender Bert Schmickel was able to match the save of the game on all-star Colin MacIlvennie and send the ball back up the field for Cal. The clearing middie got through a barrage of checks, beat his man, had the look, but found the one more on the doorstep and the game was over. Just one overtime, but this time it was Cal moving into the next round, not Colorado.
Georgia Tech 7 vs Chapman 8
California 10 vs Grand Canyon 13
If you predicted a final four of Georgia Tech, Chapman, Cal, and Grand Canyon in January, you wouldn’t have been looked at as much of a gambler. Three of these teams held the top spot, at one point, and GCU and Chapman were our last two National Champions. After a day off, the four squads got back after it on Thursday, starting with Georgia Tech and Chapman. The Rambling Wreck came out with the hot sticks, their eyes set on Saturday. Ken Lovic’s gang packed in 5 goals in the first frame against sophomore goalie Dan Aguilar, against 2 from the Panthers. Down three, Chapman made their own luck by increasing shot volume, eventually connecting on 3 of 11 looks at the cage. The Yellow Jackets were able to work in two more of their own before the break, holding on to a 7-5 lead. From there, an absolute defensive struggle ensued, led by the lights out performance of Aguilar. Nothing got in for the Yellow Jackets in the second half. Absolutely nothing. It only took three goals from the Panthers, but they were able to lock the game up in the third, before registering the only goal of the fourth as the game-winner.
The second game never felt as close as the score would indicate. Senior attackman Joe Balestrierie led the onslaught against the Golden Bears, racking up 7 goals right away in the first quarter. Amongst the flurry, Cal only struck once in the first, twice in the second and by halftime they were in a seven goal hole. Balestrierie’s 6 connections led the Lopes, while only three others scored found the back of the net, each with double-digits goals. Godekeraw award winner Max McKone tried to rally a comeback with a hat trick of his own, but even a 5-2 fourth quarter from Cal would be enough to build the comeback on the Lopes. Only two teams were left standing and they had a day off to prepare for the battle of the 2015 and 2016 champions.
Grand Canyon 12 vs Chapman 8
We couldn’t have asked for a better Saturday afternoon for our big conclusion. Souther California provided perfect weather, a growing crowd, and two teams with one championship under their belts. It may have seemed like a bit of home-field advantage, with the finals held on Chapman’s home turf, but Coach Rapkin’s men came into the finale with a focused gameplan and executed from the opening whistle. It barely took 10 minutes for the Lopes to ring up 5 goals against the coincidental home team, before the Panthers started to take some exceptions. It was 6-0, Grand Canyon cruising, before Chapman made their first connection, around 20 minutes into the game. Remembering how good it feels to score, Chaptown turned up the heat and made it their own 5-0 run, locking the game up at 6 going into halftime. We all know lacrosse is a game of runs and the two best college clubs in the country were proving it on the big stage.
While Chapman was refining their plan of attack in the locker room, it seems like Grand Canyon was getting hyped. The score stayed locked for a few minutes, before the Lopes cracked the ice and refused to ever give back the lead. The duo of the powerful senior midfielder, Austin Ekeroth, and their crafty Canadian attackman, Cam Wengreniuk, took it upon themselves to each put 4 goals into the back of the net. The poles were able to limit the Panthers to only 10 shots in the second half and only two had eyes for the net. At the final buzzer, the Lopes stormed the field to raise the trophy, their second in three years under Coach Rapkin.
Missouri State 1 vs St. Thomas 15
Louisiana 4 vs Concordia-Irvine 18
Palm Beach Atlantic 6 vs Sierra Nevada 18
Montana 7 vs Dayton 17
Bridgewater State 6 vs Grand Valley State 11
Metro State 8 vs North Dakota State 13
Cal State Fullerton 9 vs St. John’s 10
Florida Gulf Coast 3 vs Minn-Duluth 9
Minn-Duluth 7 vs St. Thomas 11
St. John’s 9 vs Concordia-Irvine 10
North Dakota State 9 vs Sierra Nevada 8
Grand Valley State 10 vs Dayton 9
Grand Valley State 12 vs St. Thomas 14
North Dakota State 9 vs Concordia-Irvine 11
Concordia-Irvine 13 vs St. Thomas 10
A new king was crowned for the first time in this year’s Division II National Championship. After Minnesota powerhouse St. Thomas claimed their fifth title in 2016, it looked like the Tommies were in place to build a MCLA dynasty. Concordia had only made it to the big show once, falling two years back to Dayton. The Tommies already had the best of all three of the other semifinal clubs, the game was all theirs on paper. These two teams met back in early March, at St. Thomas, where the home team pulled out a 16-12 victory. That’s the best part about the playoffs, anything can happen and nothing is granted. The game started out as a back and fourth test of physicality, before the Tommies took the liberty to get on the board first. Concordia didn’t respond kindly to the first two scores going to their opponent, working in two quick goals near the end of the first to lock it up.
By halfway through the second quarter, the game started to lean in the Eagles’ favor. Only 15 minutes from home, Concordia started to channel some of their own home-field advantage for three big goals of their own. After 30 minutes, the score read 5-3, in favor of the Eagles, and the feeling that there just could be a new champion was lingering in the air. Working their own comeback, St. Thomas tied the score up just minutes into the second half, but it would be for the last time. The well poised Eagles offense featured seven different scorers to beat goaltender Austin Dover, spearheaded by the efforts of the shifty freshman middie Zach Hodge’s 5 tallies. In the other crease, Aj Rossi completely sold out for Concordia to lock things down on the defensive end. The Eagles created their own opportunities all game long, and while they lacked some finishing power at times, they had the depth to get it done. Raising the trophy above their heads, the Concordia-Irvine Eagles were the first MCLA Champions of 2017.
Photos by Robert White