posted 04.15.2013 at 10.02 a.m. by Jac Coyne

MCLA Division I Notebook

Sonoma State head coach Doug Carl believes in seniors. He thinks the trajectory of any program, especially his Seawolves, is set by the seniors on the roster. This isn't necessarily a novel concept; there are plenty of coaches who look to their upperclassmen to drive the cart. But not many of those coaches have a national championship to their name, as Carl does, and a track record of taking willing seniors all the way to the top.

What does Carl think of this year's crop of seniors? He likes them. He likes them a lot.

"This senior class is really hungry to go out on top," Carl said prior to his trip south this weekend to play Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara. "They want to be able to look back and say, 'We did this.' They have created a culture where if you work hard enough, good things are going to happen. They have instilled that in the younger guys and I am going to be forever grateful to those guys for taking three years out of their lives to reestablish the culture. Last year's senior class was good, too. They took the first steps, and this class took it a step further. I hope they will be able to look at back with a lot of pride."

It's important to understand how this group started their career. During their rookie year in 2010, the Seawolves finished 2-10 even though the program was just eight years removed from its MCLA title. Granted, eight of the 10 losses that year were by two goals or fewer, but the program had bottomed out. Carl returned as the head coach in '11 and the record leveled at 7-7. Last spring, the mark improved to 8-4, but 'Noma was still an overtime goal to Cal away from the national tournament, a place they haven't been to since '09.

"You can go back and look at the records — this senior class at Sonoma has been down and they didn't want their legacy to be that," Carl said. "They dedicated themselves and during the three years we've been here, they have worked their butts off. We have 6:30 a.m. indoor games in the fall, and nobody is complaining. We have 5 a.m. hell week workouts, and no one is complaining. They just really bought in to everything that the coaching staff is selling."

The Sonoma staff's big thing is faith. Not in the higher power sense — or at least from I can tell — but more in the trust realm. It takes a lot of drilling and repetition, but eventually the faith will come.

"You have faith that, on offense, a guy is going to make a cut, and if you cut hard enough, the ball is going to be fed to you," Carl said. "On defense, the slide is going to be there. You can do certain things and you know your teammate is going to be there. There is just no doubt. These guys are executing it at a pretty high level right now. The Stanford game is probably the best we've looked overall."

The loss was just the Cardinal's second, and it involved Sonoma putting up 13 goals — part of a run of four conference games in which the 'Wolves have averaged 13.5 markers per game. One of the potential drawbacks of Carl's faith-based initiative is it tends to sacrifice the individual for the greater good, especially with the ball in their sticks.

"Offense is a lot about working as a team," Carl said. "We're not star-driven. We need six guys executing. The guys with all the points aren't necessarily the guys who created the opportunity. Generally speaking, they aren't. That takes a little bit of work and a little bit of time, to be honest."

So far, everything has gone well for the Seawolves. They are 11-3 and the top seed in the stacked WCLL. The seniors were able to beat Cal Poly for the first time in their careers this past Saturday — a big goal for that group — even though they fell short against the Gauchos. For the most part, Sonoma is having success by leaning on its back line.

"There's that old adage about defense winning championships," Carl said. "Well, you've just got to have enough offense to throw a few goals on the scoreboard. Our offense is playing well enough to throw up more than a few, and our defense is playing well."

And, perhaps more importantly, the senior class is still hungry.

- He's not a member of the senior class, but junior goalie Dylan Fannin has played a large role in the Seawolves' success this spring. Carl said that he would be the team's MVP at this point.

"He's saving shots at close to 70 percent and he's making some saves that we have no right to ask him to make," Carl said. "It is forcing teams to take a little more time and get a little closer and place their shots. The defense is playing at a pretty high level, but he's taking it over the top. He's taking me back to some of our dominant goalies in the past, when teams had to change their offense to get the ball past us."

- The game that resonated the most this week was Grand Canyon's 14-13 overtime victory against Arizona State on Thursday evening. It snapped the Sun Devils' eight-game winning streak, handed the 'Lopes the top seed in the SLC South half of the conference tourney bracket and will probably be enough to send GCU to nationals as an at-large.

When asked how the winning goal played out, Grand Canyon head coach Manny Rapkin was pretty matter-of-fact about it.

"They had it for pretty much the whole overtime; maybe it came down and went back once," Rapkin said. "But they controlled the ball three of the four minutes in OT. We got the ball back with 25 seconds, cleared it and we get into a 1-4 with Geoff Barnes up top. Barnes took a look back at the clock and took off with about 15 seconds left. Nobody slid to him and it was a high bouncer. That was it."

Rapkin hasn't dug too much into what his postseason prospects are — "You tell me," he said when asked if he thought he was through to nationals — but he was sure that the 'Lopes earlier narrow losses to Chapman (11-10), BYU (13-12) and UCSB (11-7) set the stage for the ASU victory.

"There was definitely specific stuff that we talked about before, during and after each of those games," Rapkin said. "The Chapman game showed we could play with anybody because that was right after they beat ASU. We learned in the BYU game that we have to finish it out and we need to play together the whole 60. And the Santa Barbara game was about staying with the plan. We fell behind late in that game and the guys were trying to take the game over by themselves. We put all that stuff together this time. Play as a team, support each other, believe and stay with a plan."

- It's tax day, so we might as well see who paid their dues and who came up short with a bracket projection. As we all know, there are plenty of moving parts left this spring, in both the regular season and conference tourneys, but here's what I've got at this point (and note that with all of the SLC and WCLL teams, several seeds were massaged to ensure that there were no first round conference matchups):

No. 16 Wisconsin (GRLC AQ) vs. No. 1 Colorado State (RMLC AQ)
No. 15 Texas (LSA AQ) vs. No. 2 Colorado (AL)
No. 14 Virginia Tech (SELC AQ) vs. No. 3 Chapman (SLC AQ)
No. 13 Michigan State (CCLA AQ) vs. No. 4 Arizona State (AL)
No. 12 Oregon (PNCLL AQ) vs. No. 5 UC Santa Barbara (AL)
No. 11 Grand Canyon (AL) vs. No. 6 Sonoma (WCLL AQ)
No. 10 Stanford (AL) vs. No. 7 BYU (AL)
No. 9 Boston College (PCLL AQ) vs. No. 8 California (AL)

Teams with the legitimate potential to insert themselves in the discussion: Simon Fraser, UConn, Davenport, Pitt.

- It was close, but Arizona grabbed the third South bid to the SLC tournament with a weekend sweep of San Diego (12-9) and San Diego State (11-10). The Wildcats will draw either UCSB or Chapman in the first round...Loyola-Marymount will travel to UNLV this weekend to determine the winner of the third seed out of the SLC North...smart move by Minnesota to play St. John's and St. Thomas this weekend. If you had those kind of talented teams in your backyard, why wouldn't you want to test yourselves when there is no drawback?...Iowa and Wisconsin are on a collision course to determine the top seed in the GRLC West. The game is on April 26.

- Central Florida's win over Florida means UCF and Florida State will head to the SELC tourney out of the Southeast division...Clemson & Wake Forest (Northeast) and Virginia Tech & Richmond (Northwest) appear ticketed to the SELCs, as well. The Southwest division is still up in the air...Oregon and Oregon State tangle on Saturday for the top seed in the PNCLL South. Simon Fraser and Montana clash in the North...all things considered, Georgia had a respectable trip to Colorado. It was a lot better than New Mexico's, anyway.

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