MCLA Division I Summer Notebook
It's the longest and most vicious rivalry in the MCLA, heightened by a fundamental clash in cultures. Pirates vs. Preachers. Drama vs. Discipline.
It's these differences, along with an annual wealth of talent, that make Brigham Young-Colorado State the most compelling battle every season. As the two programs enter the 2013 season, they are once again on a collision course for potentially three meetings, but they are also in very different places.
"There's no question this is a rebuilding year," admitted BYU head coach Matt Schneck.
"I expect to be good, and we could probably sleepwalk our way through nine or 10 wins, but our goals are bigger than that," said CSU skipper Alex Smith.
The Cougars' need for restructuring isn't too surprising. They lost a nine-man senior class that Schneck said might be the biggest in program history, and among that group were devastating weapons like national player of the year Ted Ferrin, Andrew Harding and Corey Gunderson. BYU also realized that when the irresistible force meets the immoveable object, it isn't always a draw.
"You take the No. 1 offense in the country last year and you put it up against the No. 1 defense, and we couldn't perform," said Schneck of his encounter with CSU in the semifinals. "So the reality is we're obviously good enough that we had a very respectable season, and nobody is going to cry too much finishing up third, but our goals are typically a little more lofty than that."
Schneck admits that with the experience he had on offense, he allowed his players to freelance on most possessions. As the Cougars enter 2013, the coaching staff – and new offensive coordinator Elliot Grow – will be pulling back on the reins.
"When you have players with those types of strengths, you let them go with it," said Schneck. "That can be a good thing and at times it can be a challenging thing. When you go up against a great defense like CSU had, they start to take away some of those options from you, and all of sudden you start to realize that had we been playing in a system the entire year, things would have been a little bit different. We're going to mix things up as we go into this year. You'll see more system play from our offense."
And there was also something to be said for playing as the defending champion.
"Coming off a championship, until you've experienced it, you don't know what to expect," Schneck said. "Having a target on our back the entire year was important because we were always getting the opposition's best game. And there may have been a little bit of arrogance. We were still a very good team, but came up a little bit short. What we've experienced from all of this is the coaches have matured and the guys realize that these things don't come to us on a silver platter."
This dilemma has now switched onto the shoulders of the Colorado State players.
"It's easy to forget when you look back on it about how hard we worked to get where we got," said Smith. "That's going to be the biggest challenge for us this year: just remembering how hard we worked, because those guys really did. We went through ups and downs in the middle of the season after losing to BYU and had a bad game against Utah and it was a real low point for us. Most of the game against CU was a low point. Whatever clicked in, it went great after that. It's easy to say it's a great season, but we were struggling in the middle. That's what I'm going to be trying to impress upon them: you have to work to make it happen and nothing is going to be handed to us."
Much like BYU last year, the Rams are a senior-dominated team, albeit known more for its defense. Smith said the senior class, led by captains Austin Fisher, Tyler Zabor, Patrick Sullivan and Alex Devlin, will be expected to remind the younger players about what lies ahead just as much as he does. Smith understands if he beats the players over the head with the same message about how everyone wants to drop them down a peg, it will lose it's efficacy. Like Schneck said, it's something the players have to experience.
"Any message you deliver on a daily basis is going to get lost," Smith said. "You definitely have to toe that line because they don't want to hear from me every day that they are not good, because that is not true. At the same time, there are 100 other teams out there that are working hard to knock us off our high horse. That's going to be part of the territory. I look forward those first games and see some of those teams punch us in the mouth a little bit and see how we respond. You really don't know until you are out there."
Colorado State will be fighting history a little bit as the last two defending national champions have lost in the semifinals the following season. So in a weird twist in the BYU-CSU rivalry, the Rams will be using the Cougars as an example.
Selection Committee To Have Different Look
The MCLA selection committee will have a slightly different look to it in 2013 with the departure of Ken Lovic as chair. Lovic, who has been the chair of the committee for both MCLA Division I and II since the association switched from a poll-based selection process to a committee in 2010, is taking a hiatus in preparation for the birth of his first child. Taking his place will be Gary Podesta, the current president of the WCLL and former coach at Santa Clara.
How does this impact teams hunting for an at-large berth in '13? Probably not a whole lot. Podesta has been a member of the Division I selection committee, so he'll be well versed on how things have been done in the past. He may have to bone up on D- II a little bit as he orchestrates that division's selection process, but Podesta has been involved with the MCLA for a long time, so he likely has a working relationship with many of the coaches on the junior circuit.
In addition to the departure of Lovic, former Illinois coach Phil Dodson (who has taken an assistant position at NCAA-III Carthage) and former Oregon head man Joe Kerwin (who stepped down from his position with the Ducks) will no longer be on the Division I selection committee. This opens up three potential new spots for the 2013 season.
How will these spots get filled?
"Each conference makes nominations for its members to serve on the selection and seeding committees," said MCLA president Tony Scazzero. "At our annual winter meeting, the full [board of directors] reviews the nominations submitted by the conferences and names the most beneficial size and individual members for both committees for the upcoming season."
With criteria, however loose, in place, these changes shouldn't have a dramatic impact on how teams are selected and seeded, but, as Mike Pressler once told me, if there wasn't a human element involved in the process, they'd just have computers do it.
Shootout in the SELC
One MCLA coach, chaffing at the time and cost it takes to get to Greenville, S.C., offered a suggestion to the executive board when it meets in December to determine where the 2014 nationals will be held: mandate that only regions that have actually won a national championship be eligible to host it.
It's a subtle dig at the SELC, which has the largest membership of the 10 MCLA conferences, but has one of the weakest track records in the national tournament. Only Florida State in 2005 has made it to the final four (where they lost 21-6 to Sonoma), with all the rest flaming out in the first round or quarterfinals. The conference doesn't project to change that in 2013, but the SELC should be very competitive – both within the conference for the league title and also in the national at-large race.
Virginia Tech, the defending conference champs, brings back the most experienced talent, led by senior attackman Matt Giannelli, but Hokies head coach Joel Nachlas is playing it close to the vest.
"I feel pretty good about this squad, but it's hard to say," he said. "It's one of those things where we haven't started yet so I don't know who I'm going to have."
If everyone does come back – and perhaps some familiar faces who were injured last year like middie Matt Buening – Tech will be a force. The Hokies, who traditionally do not venture too far from the Southeast, have also put together a very strong non-conference schedule that includes a trip to the Rockies to face Colorado State, Colorado and Simon Fraser.
By their standards, last year was a down one for the Seminoles, and they still made it to the conference championship game.
"People thought we were really down, but we weren't down that much," said FSU head coach Bill Harkins. "We were the second best team. We lost to Clemson, but I think it was an aberration; we would have beat them had we met them again. Same thing with BC. Of course this is a coach talking."
Just about everyone is back in '13 – the 'Noles only lost a starting pole, d-middie and back-up goalie off last year's squad – even thought the non-conference schedule is a little light.
"We had a great recruiting class," Harkins said. "I think we'll be solid as hell. We only need a few pieces of the puzzle and we'll be real good."
If Clemson can avoid the injury bug that plagued them in '12 – six broken bones and two torn ACLs by head coach Buff Grubb's count – the Tigers should be able to build on its breakout season of a year ago.
"I came away from the season with a sense of unfinished business," said Grubb. "The last playoff game we were in, we were out shaking hands and we had four kids on the field that started for us at the beginning of the season. That's how bad it was."
Throw in ascending programs like Richmond and Georgia and there will be solid SELC games every weekend. Nachlas, Harkins and Grubb even felt Florida would take a big step back toward where they were, as well. With a couple of good bounces, an SELC team might just break the glass ceiling and get back to the semifinals.
NOTES: It appears that USC is making a move to return to the MCLA...Vanderbilt has reapplied for admission to the SELC after missing the 2012 season. George Washington, a former NCLL school, has also applied for admission to the SELC...Texas had originally planned a spring break trip to the desert to play Arizona State, Arizona and Grand Canyon, but opted to back out of the games...and if you hadn't heard, Grand Canyon will be playing Division I next season after going to the tourney as a D-II squad in '12...Chris Gervat will be charged with leading Davenport in MCLA-I this spring. The former UMass defenseman replaces Bob Clarkson, who stepped down at the end of last spring.
The UMLC currently has five Division I members with the loss of Marquette, meaning they are one shy of the mandated number of programs needed for an automatic qualifier. What's in store for that league? I don't know. Repeated requests for information have gone unanswered...BYU will be carrying 15 fewer players than it did last year, according to Schneck. It'll be the same number they had on the roster when they won the title in '11...even though they had two years of eligibility left, UCSB middies Taylor Gilbert and Aaron Hemeon will not be returning for the Gauchos...Illinois has hired former Kansas State player Ben Coughlin to replace Phil Dodson...Brandon Schwind replaces Dwayne Hicks as the head coach at Michigan State...there has yet to be an announcement of the new coach at Oregon.