posted 02.18.2013 at 10.03 a.m. by Jac Coyne

MCLA Division II Notebook

Florida Gulf Coast coach Matt Garrow was stunned as he looked out on the field this spring and saw 60 players vying for a spot on his squad. His small band of lacrosse junkies, often not numbering more than 10 guys when the program started in 2009, had morphed into a full-sized squad in less than five years.

"We knew there was a buzz," admitted Garrow. "We had heard it, but I don't think we expected to have 60 on the field. I thought we might have 60 at the first couple of meetings in the fall, and then they'd weed themselves out. I didn't expect to have 60 guys competing on the field. That was a surprise."

The lacrosse explosion at FGCU is partly a product of the school itself, and some of it is due with last year's inaugural campaign as an MCLA program.

As far as colleges and universities go, Florida Gulf Coast is a baby, but it has quickly emerged as quality option, especially for Sunshine State students. Founded in 1991 as part of the state school system, FGCU now boasts a student body of 12,000 students with $7,000 in-state tuition. The fact that the school sits five minutes from the beach in Fort Myers and the rec department provides the lacrosse team with the princely sum of $20,000 in assistance every year is just gravy.

The Eagles' ability to post an 8-3 record and advance to the semifinals of the SELC tourney in just their first year further piqued the interest of prospective lacrosse players. As such, half of the 60 players on the field this spring were freshmen or transfers. When the final roster was cut down for this season and the depth charts released, Garrow found that he basically had a new team.

Players who were running on the first lines or leading the team in statistical categories may now be sitting on the bench for much of the season. It's an awkward dynamic for Garrow and his staff, but a necessary one if FGCU has visions of reaching its goals.

"It's extremely difficult," Garrow admitted. "As much as everybody understands — and we laid out what we were going to do in the beginning — if our program is going to continue to move in the right direction, we've got to put the players on the field who give us the best chance to win. Everybody so far has bought into that. We haven't had anyone leave us. We've shuffled around a couple of guys and some guys just won't take the field. We've had leading scorers who are now going to be sitting on the bench. It's the way we've got to go and everybody understands it. Each practice, with 40 guys out there, is very game-like. They compete very hard and they all know it's just an injury away."

As for those aforementioned goals, they are pretty simple. Garrow wants to go undefeated at home and win the SELC tourney along with the auto-bid to Greenville, which is a manageable 11-hour drive. The first goal feeds directly into the second, as all three of the Eagles divisional games will be played on the FGCU soccer field, which the team can use for conference home games. A win in all three, and Garrow's troops will have a one seed in the SELC tourney and a leg-up in the race for the AQ.

In addition to the divisional games, FGCU opens up the season on the road against defending SELC champion Elon before a game against national runner-up Grand Valley State in Palm Beach.

"The first thing we did was walk up to Elon and said, 'OK, you won the SELC's last year, we want to play you right off the bat,'" said Garrow. "That was by design. Let's go head-to-head with the champions. If we win, great. If we lose, now we've got a gauge of where we need to be at the end of the season. Same with Grand Valley. We were really hoping to get someone of their caliber and we're lucky it was Grand Valley. The same thinking applies. If we win, fantastic. If we lose, OK guys, we still haven't let down any of our goals, but this is where we need to be when we get to South Carolina. It'll be a learning experience and challenging. We're ready to stretch ourselves, so that's what we're going to try to do."

It's tough to gauge this FGCU program. It's about to play the first game of its second season in the association, and the Eagles already carry a No. 21 national ranking. Despite its full roster and fantastic resources, there has always been an apprenticeship period for new programs in the MCLA. Could Florida Gulf Coast be the first to go from neophyte to tourney team?

We'll get a good idea on Saturday.

- The weekend started off with a shocker on Friday night when St. Andrews, playing in its first year in the MCLA after folding up its NCAA tent in 2011, defeated SCAD, 14-13 in overtime. Ranked No. 9 in the country and a tournament qualifier from the year before, SCAD appeared to be comfortable favorites. Still, it was the Knights who finished on top.

"We're huge on accountability, and that's what made it possible," said St. Andrews head coach Chris Sherman at the hotel after the game. "They were playing for one another, plain and simple. The stats speak for themselves, but solid work all around and this was a team win. While a couple of guys shined, they relied on the guys around them to help. This was a team win, and the young men on our roster deserve 100 percent of the credit."

It was a great way to start of the MCLA experience, and Sherman couldn't get too angry when his players puffed their chests out after the win.

"My team was pumped up the entire game because our fall ball scrimmages put a dent in a lot of our guys' egos," Sherman said. "With so many freshmen on our roster, this was an exciting accomplishment for them. We had to corral them in after the game and remind them they just played an extremely worthy opponent, and to show SCAD the respect they deserve. We were hooting and hollering a little too much for my taste, but the youthful excitement was evident."

The excitement was neutered quickly. On Sunday, St. Andrews traveled to Georgia Southern — a team that has never had a winning record in the MCLA — and lost 8-7.

- Another factor taking the starch out of St. Andrews' win — while raising serious questions about SCAD — was Coast Guard's victory over the Bees on Saturday, 14-10. With a 1-2 start to the season, SCAD isn't going to have the luxury of missing the SELC tourney again and still being viable for the nationals...Coast Guard should creep to the brink of the Top 10 with wins over SCAD and Kennesaw State on Sunday...the St. Mary's free-fall continues, this time a 17-7 loss to Gonzaga...from all reports, the St. Thomas-Westminster game lived up to all the hype. Need to get some streaming video for that tourney in the future...in general, Cal State-Fullerton has to feel pretty good about its trip to Las Vegas, even if they finished 1-2.

Looks like St. Thomas is serious about their goalie platoon. Steven Bang played the entire opener against Concordia and Ryan Zeilinger took all the minutes in the Westminster game. And then in the Fullerton game, the two goalies split time. It's an interesting dynamic and one worthy of keeping an eye one...Pepperdine derailed the Occidental steam train, 17-14, on Sunday...not a bad debut for Palm Beach Atlantic's Dominic Scalzo, who is a transfer from OCC. In his first weekend, he had 17 goals and 11 assists, including a 16-point game against Emmanuel (Ga.).

// show either all first or all second banners