MCLA Division II Notebook
OK, so you're ready to play MCLA Division II lacrosse. But are you ready for a 36-hour bus ride (one way) from Oregon to Minnesota to play three of the best teams in the country in a four-day span? Are you ready to make up for a certain amount of stick skills and lacrosse savvy with a bruising brand of lacrosse that levels the playing field with the premier teams in the division?
Yes? Well Justin Eckenroad would like to speak with you.
Eckenroad, the head coach at Western Oregon, isn't afraid to put his Wolves through all kinds of trials, whether on the field or off, to make sure the team is ready to make an impact at nationals. Making the lengthy sojourn to play No. 1 St. Thomas, No. 3 St. Thomas and No. 11 North Dakota State is just part of the process.
"The trip was great as far as a learning experience," said Eckenroad. "We have a pretty young team and this was a good chance to see that kind of competition early in the season before we see them again down in South Carolina. We played pretty well. A couple of bounces didn't go our way, and the 36-hour bus ride really didn't help us. But when we showed up, we were ready to play."
The Wolves finished up with an 0-3 mark on the trip, but there were plenty of positives. WOU spotted NDSU a 5-2 halftime lead before bowing 9-7. They hung around with defending champion St. Thomas for a little while before getting their doors blown off, 21-11. Western actually held a 6-4 lead over St. John's at the half before its 28-man roster ran out of gas.
"All in all, it was just a great learning experience for the guys playing great competition, playing out of conference, playing on the road and playing three games within four days," Eckenroad said. "It's just a great preparation for nationals."
It's not like WOU will be neophytes when they get to Greenville, which they undoubtedly will as the automatic qualifier out of the PNCLL. They've won the conference championship in the past five seasons, and made St. Thomas sweat last year in the first round before bowing, 11-6. The Wolves have plenty of polished players, such as junior middie Jacob Bohince (31g, 14a), but they like to make their impact in a more martial manner.
"We laid a lot of big hits," said Eckenroad of his Minnesota visit. "During the whole trip we had a lot of big hits, and we played a physical game. I think that really helps our guys when we play teams with a little more sticks skill and a little more lacrosse nature. When we come down there and play more physical, it helps us out."
Eckenroad's talk might lead some to believe that the Wolves are simply a goon squad, but that would be a dangerous assumption. WOU has skill all over the field. It starts with Bohince, and follows with Tyler Preston, who is one of the premier draw men in the division, recently setting the program record for single-season faceoff wins. Tyler Bolton (16g, 28a) and Taylor Dougan (34g, 10a) brace Bohince for one of the best midfield lines in the country and WOU has three capable goalies, anchored by Ronnie Rothstein (59.7 sv%). Close defender Logan Marks, who always draws the toughest assignments, is an All-American candidate.
The big hits and long trips will only go far. Western Oregon has to win the PNCLL, a conference that boasts far more contenders in years past. Portland, Gonzaga and even Western Washington are still threats to the Wolves hegemony, but nothing seems to worry Western.
"We have a target on our back, but we like it there," Eckenroad said. "The guys like that pressure. I'm looking forward to seeing them in the playoff format when it's win or go home and our backs are against the wall. I think they are going to come out with a whole new attitude, just like we did last year."
- Dayton is in a jam. After the 15-7 loss to Grand Valley State over the weekend, the Flyers don't have the quality wins it needs to impress the committee. The one notable win for Charlie Mark's squad is against Briarcliffe, but the Bulldogs now look like an outsider, as well. It would help Dayton if Briarcliffe turned around and won the PCLL, but that would also bring Coast Guard into the at-large pool, which does the Flyers no favors.
Long story short, Dayton is essentially an AQ-or-bust team at this point. A run to the CCLA championship game, featuring at least one quality victory over a program like GVSU, Grove City or Indiana Tech, might do the trick. Alas, that seems highly improbably at this point. We might have a Flyer-free Greenville experience this spring.
- There is not one SELC team that wants to see SCAD in its bracket. The Bees are peaking at the right time...on the flip side, every team is praying to see Emory...they are still a ways off from being a national presence, but the improvements shown by Humboldt State are notable. The 'Jacks are the top team in the WCLL and this season will be one to grow on...anyone want to bet against Sam Houston State to win the LSA title? Didn't think so...unless Fullerton can beat Concordia, there are just no wins on the schedule to get them to Greenville as an at-large.
- Last week, I postulated that Lindenwood-Belleville was the team to beat in the GRLC. While the Lynx are still strong candidates for the AQ, Missouri State reconfirmed that the GRLC is a wide open race by taking down Belleville, 11-6, thanks to 12 saves from Mason Goodwin. LBC did rebound with an 11-10 win over Washington U, which punched their ticket to the GRLC tourney...crazier things have happened, but Florida Gulf Coast is going to need some help to sneak into the national tournament without a berth in the SELC tourney. The Eagles lost to Palm Beach Atlantic, 18-13, giving the second spot out of the Southeast division to the Sailfish...if there is such thing as a sleeper in the CCLA, Siena Heights would fit the description.