MCLA Division I Notebook
Sometimes it's easy to fall into the trap of tradition. When BYU lost back-to-back games against Colorado and Colorado State a couple of weeks ago, it was mildly surprising. The Cougars had been running hot, sweeping three top-flight games in California just prior, which had raised expectations. But BYU looked completely overmatched against the defending champions in a 16-5 loss.
What was wrong with the BYU? As I delved into that question, I remembered back to last year and, more specifically, what players weren't around anymore. Ted Ferrin. Corey Gunderson. Andrew Harding. Jacob and Jared Houghton. Drew Shumway. Tyler Sabey. Jason Arias. It was a ridiculously productive class, leaving huge chasms all over the field for the Cougars.
"At the end of the day, you have to remember that we graduated 90 percent of our scoring from last year's team," said BYU head coach Matt Schneck. "This is a young team, and I believe that in every way that they are overachievers. What they've been able to do and accomplish up to this point — being in contention and being in a place to still make some waves and make things happen — is fantastic."
When looked through that prism, the Cougars' 12-3 record is pretty darn impressive. To give a little perspective, think about this year's CSU team. The Rams are a powerhouse with seniors all over the field. Fast-forward to the 2014 season. Do you think that Alex Smith would be pleased with a 12-3 record against one of the toughest schedules in the country with what will amount to a completely reconstituted team? Damn right he would. That's kind of where BYU is right now.
"We're averaging five goals less per game than we were last year," Schneck said. "We're still trying to figure ourselves out offensively. If you go against a team like CSU, which absolutely has the No. 1 defense in the country, you start to identify the things you need to work on. But at the same time, we have to show some patience as a coaching staff and realize that these kids have never played in these types of games before or played against this type of competition. We're learning as we go. We're so proud of these guys because, to tell you the truth, I think we're doing a little bit better than we anticipated would be possible. All we wanted to do as we got through the season was to be in the position where we have that chance again, to have that opportunity."
The opportunity is undoubtedly there. While the seed will probably be down the list compared to last season, BYU will be at nationals and there won't be too many teams in the 16-team field that the Cougars haven't played to this point. Other than some of the AQs from the eastern leagues, Sonoma State is the only high-end program BYU hasn't faced.
As the schedule plays out this year, this young BYU team is at an advantage. Unlike in years past, when the Cougars played Colorado State and Colorado at the very end of the season, they caught them in the mid-April this spring.
"In the past, when we had that game against CSU, it was right at the tail end of the season," Schneck said. "A week later, you're playing them in the conference playoffs and a week after that you're playing them again at nationals. Now, there is little time to make good adjustments and actually do something about it."
BYU's academic calendar ends a lot sooner than most schools, meaning the Cougars had this past weekend off preparing for exams. The books always come first for the student-athletes in Provo, but the hiatus couldn't have come at a better time for Schneck's kids. While Utah will do its best to make some noise, BYU is a good bet to meet Colorado in the semifinals of the RMLC tournament.
The Cougars will be rested and ready for the next test after going through one of the most grueling months any MCLA team has seen.
"There was nobody in the country playing a schedule like that," said Schneck in regards to BYU's March slate. "It started to wear on them. We could see it physically and emotionally, as well. We introduced a little fun into practice and tried to let them recuperate a little bit. That's the plan moving forward over the next week as we try to get these guys tuned in for the conference championship."
- Michigan State has been hanging around the periphery for much of this season. The Spartans were obviously a team to be reckoned with considering the talent they had returning, but they had a new coach and were sitting at 5-2 midway through the season after a curious loss to Simon Fraser. Since then, however, MSU has established itself once again as a team that will be a tough out in Greenville.
The 11-1 win over CCLA foe Davenport should be especially troubling to the rest of the association. Regardless of their bump up from D-II this year, the Panthers have been able to score on anybody. They registered nine against ASU and 13 against noted defensive-minded teams Buffalo and Virginia Tech. Still, they got just a lone marker against the Spartans. That tells me State is rounding into form.
With the competitive race for at-large bids, Michigan State can't afford to take the CCLA tournament lightly. While they would have a good case for an at-large, it's definitely not something they want to be flirting with. If they take care of business, Sparty will enter Greenville in much the same way they did last year – a miserable match-up in both the first round and quarterfinals, with the ability to go even further with the right bounces.
- Loyola Marymount grabbed the third seed in the SLC North with its overtime win against UNLV. The Lions will face Arizona State in the first round. After their 7-6 loss to Chapman on Saturday, UCSB draws Arizona in the first round. Chapman and Grand Canyon pick up the winners...the LSA tourney is underway, and Texas State and Oklahoma advanced to play SMU and Texas, respectively, in the semis next weekend.
- Perhaps the widest open of conference tournaments is the SELC. On the strength of its 8-5 upset over No. 23 Georgia – the first win for the Yellow Jackets over the 'Dogs since '05 – Georgia Tech has earned a spot in the eight-team conference playoff. The Wreck is just one of several teams – Virginia Tech, UGA, Florida State, Central Florida, Clemson, Richmond – that have a legitimate shot of walking away with the league's AQ. I made a Twitter prediction a while ago, and I'll stick with it. I've got FSU (gulp).
- Second on the conference "wide open race" list is the GRLC. Purdue's 9-6 victory over Illinois eliminated the Illini – the '12 auto qualifier – from the conference tournament, leaving potentially six teams that have never been to the dance before (Missouri, which must beat Kansas on Saturday to qualify for the league tourney, is the only team that has previous nationals experience, and that was back in '04). Indiana is the team to beat in the East, while Iowa and Wisconsin will square off for the top seed in the West. Whoever comes out of the GRLC will earn a beatdown from Colorado State at nationals, but it doesn't make the race any less compelling.
- Cal Poly's 11-10 victory over Stanford gave a glimmer of hope to Duluth in the at-large race. UMD will still need the Mustangs to at least make the WCLL championship game to remain in the discussion, and that might not even be enough...as was expected with a 24-man roster, Stanford is fading late in the season. Still dangerous, but the Cardinal is not at the same level as they once were...Stanford, as well as the fourth team in the SLC, should start to get nervous because if UConn advances to the PCLL title game, they'll be tough to ignore...Oregon took the drama out of the PNCLL South with a 15-7 pasting of Oregon State. The Ducks and Fraser are on a collision course for the conference AQ.