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posted 03.12.2012 at 10.00 a.m. by Jac Coyne

Monday Notebook: MCLA Division II

The first marquee weekend of the D-II calendar is this coming weekend, and it will all be happening in St. Louis as No. 1 Davenport, No. 2 St. Thomas, No. 11 North Dakota State, No. 15 Northern Colorado, No. 16 Missouri Baptist, No. 22 Missouri State and No. 23 Kennesaw State all come to Gateway City. The St. Louis Lacrosse Invitational is the brainchild of Andy Joly, the head coach at Missouri Baptist, who was a looking for a way to heighten his program's notoriety.

"One day I was talking to Bob Clarkson at Davenport about coming to St. Louis for a fall ball scrimmage and we got to talking about having a big weekend in the spring," said Joly. "He loved the idea, and loved how easy it was to get to St. Louis."

The premier match-up is on Saturday between top-ranked Davenport and No. 2 St. Thomas – a replay of last year's national championship game won by the Panthers – but Missouri Baptist, which made its first trip to nationals last spring, gets a crack at both those teams, plus Northern Colorado.

"Last season, we experienced some tough losses playing highly ranked teams like St. John's, Dayton, and Hope," said Joly, who has been planning the tournament for the past six months. "It was our first season playing teams of that caliber, and although we lost each game, we took invaluable learning experiences from each game. The most important lesson was opening our players' eyes to the fact that if we can play our game for 60 minutes, we can beat any team we come up against. The other benefit to playing those kinds of teams is being battle tested come tournament time."

Joly is expecting a big turnout for the weekend, and is hoping for the added benefit of highlighting the sport in the St. Louis area, where it has been exploding at both the youth and high school levels. Many of the games will be webcast by Laxx.tv, further increasing the weight of the invitational. Joly knows his players are looking forward to showing that Missouri Baptist is a contender this spring.

"I would be lying if told you that we didn't have this weekend highlighted on our calendars," Joly said. "I firmly believe that our guys are ready for this weekend; we have all the tools necessary to beat teams of this caliber. This season we have 20 returners who all experienced having our first bid at nationals cut short last season. We all got a taste of what it is like at that tournament and we will do anything to get to Greenville and stay as long as we can. I believe that starts with a high tournament seed."

Considering the caliber of teams in town this weekend, St. Louis will feel a little like Greenville.

- I've been trying to wrap my ahead around Wednesday's game between No. 4 Grand Valley State and No. 6 St. John's played in Palm Beach, Fla., which was won by the Lakers, 9-6. Obviously, it's tough to derive much from a box score, but even the line score is baffling.

What could account for GVSU's dominance in the first half and SJU's response – a shutout – in the second?

"The first half they were getting too many transition and odd-man opportunities," said St. John's head coach Derek Daehn. "In the second half, we did a better job on the ride, which helped control their offense and their looks. In the second half they were caught offsides two or three times and they got rattled. [Goalie] Mike King settled down and played better and our defense did a better job playing under control, which decreased the number of slides we were forced to make."

The Johnnies had their chances on the offensive end, but Daehn said they didn't finish well when the opportunities arose. Although it goes down as a loss, it should be a useful for one for St. John's. They learned quite a bit going against the Lakers that will be applied to their next game against UMLL rival, No. 11 North Dakota State.

"We need to communicate better on the defensive end," Daehn said. "Our breakdowns were when we didn't talk to each other. Offensively, we need to not rush to get our chances. In the second quarter when they went on their run, we pushed too much and didn't wait for our looks. We tried matching them goal for goal, and that isn't our strength. The biggest factor against NDSU is being able to finish our chances, which is beating the goalie in close and taking high percentage shots."

- On Friday, I posted a story on Grand Canyon and their transition to MCLA Division II, but there was an interesting quote from 'Lopes head coach Manny Rapkin that resonated beyond the story itself.

"They could not sponsor 25 sports at the D-I level. They didn't have the bulk," said Manny Rapkin, Grand Canyon's first-year head coach. "The reason that lacrosse was dropped was there was a viable, quality league for men's lacrosse to play where other sports didn't have that option. It wasn't focused on moving lacrosse out; it was trying to find a way to keep our sports at a competitive level and be able to do it within a certain budget."

What's the big deal? Well, the reason the MCLA hasn't admitted club programs from schools that sponsor varsity teams is due to a gentlemen's agreement with NCAA coaches that asks the club programs to steer clear in order to avoid giving jittery athletic directors an escape hatch if faced with Title IX concerns. In return, MCLA coaches are recognized by their peers.

I've argued in the past that this was probably a vestige of a bygone era, but Rapkin's quote above tacitly confirms that the Intercollegiate Men's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IMLCA) had a point. The circumstances are slightly different. Grand Canyon would have just killed off its lacrosse program completely during its transition to Division I if there was no MCLA, and now they are still fiscally supporting the 'Lopes and honoring their scholarship commitments.

But the fact that the GCU administration recognized that the MCLA is a serious player on the collegiate lacrosse landscape in its decision-making process illustrates that the NCAA coaches were wise to be worried. It's also a huge development for the MCLA. The association now has leverage.

- Grand Canyon's 11-8 victory over No. 7 Concordia will keep the 'Lopes climbing the polls. GCU also shutout UC Irvine, 10-0...CSU-Pueblo beat Western State, 21-20. Sixteen of the 41 goals were scored in the second quarter...Kyle Peterson had 10 goals and three assists in Cal State-San Marcos' 21-2 win over Marymount...after beating UC Santa Cruz, St. Mary's should coast home to a 14-2 record...Briarcliffe finally got its season underway with a 15-4 victory over PCLL newcomer Maine.