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April 11, 2012

Schooling Schooler: Schedule Spotlights Coaches

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

With the introduction of an extra off day between the semifinals and finals of the MCLA tournament this year, nationals will no longer be a battle of attrition. Or oxygen tanks. Coaching will now take on a much larger role.
© Cecil Copeland

The MCLA tournament has been an epic undertaking for those advancing to the championship game.

The schedule called for the first round and quarterfinals of the tournament to fall on Tuesday and Wednesday, and this was followed by an off day on Thursday. The semifinals and finals would occur on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

For those who played for the trophy, it was four games with one day of rest.

Since most other collegiate team loath to play two games in the same weekend, the four games in five days is a gauntlet of physical and mental exhaustion that could stand toe-to-toe with any ultra-marathoner or triathlete. Alas, such is the life of a dues-paying non-varsity lacrosse player who doesn't have the luxury of weeks to build up to the championship game.

This year, the MCLA has taken mercy on its constituents by starting the tournament week a day early and incorporating an extra off-day between the semis and finals. The first round will take place on Monday in Greenville, followed by the quarterfinals on Tuesday. After a rest day on Wednesday, the semifinals will take place on Thursday. Then after another off-day on Friday, the season will wrap up with the championship games on Saturday evening.

Is this a big deal?

It's a huge deal.

Why? Because it changes the key ingredients for what it takes to be the champion. Instead of depth, conditioning and perhaps a monkey trick (like, say, a well-run 10-man ride) being the difference-makers, the association has now elevated the importance of scouting, strategy and coaching. Not that the three weren't important before, but now these factors can be the difference between making the final game and winning it.

Had this format been introduced prior to the 2010 season, we might be wondering if Arizona State could pull off the three-peat this spring. The Sun Devils lost to Michigan by a goal in 2010, and with a day to prepare for the more rudimentary aspects of the UM ride – the Wolverines turned ASU over with alarming frequency in the first half – it would only take one more fruitful possession in the opening 30 minutes to send that game to overtime. Similarly, last year, if Chris Malone had another day to work out the clearing game against BYU's aggressive ride, the final two-goal deficit could have been rectified.

Granted, Michigan's John Paul and BYU's Matt Schneck would also have had an extra day, so the outcome may very well been the same, but the point still stands. Coaching is going to be on display more in this tournament than in any other before it. That will be a double-edged sword.

The top coaches are going to thrive under this new schedule and some might be exposed. Obviously, we're talking about the two coaches who make it to the championship game, so the difference in degrees may be miniscule. But as any coach knows, that can be the difference.

Nick, you've been through the MCLA gauntlet a couple of times. What is it like, and what impact do you see that extra day off having in the grand scheme of things?

SCHOOLER: Let me first start off by saying that we will not be mentioning any current teams in order to avoid jinxing them like Jac did last week. As for the extra day of this year, here are some thougths.

During my career at UC Santa Barbara, we lost in the national championship game in 2003, but won in 2004 and 2005, so I have been through this "gauntlet" a few times. It's actually not as bad as many observers make it out to be. Don't get me wrong; it is very tough to play the best four games of your life in five days, but for a well-conditioned, well-prepared team, it should not be an issue.

There is one instance in my mind where an extra day of rest would have helped my team. In 2003, my older brother, who was on the same midfield line as me, had been knocked unconscious in the quarterfinal game versus Florida. As a senior captain and a leader of a young team, this was a huge blow for us. That season, we probably had the best two midfield lines in the country, but without my brother and being a freshman, I was unable to carry the line. I was shut down and intimidated by CSU longstick middie Mark Plonkey. Had there been one more day of rest, my brother may have been healthy enough to return, but that is just speculation, and winning would have been a whole different story.

So I guess my point is that for the top teams – the programs that expect to be there – this will not be an issue except for those rare instances where one of your best players goes down. However, if a team in the lower half of the bracket makes it that far, the extra day of preparation can be a huge bonus.

Those underdog teams will not have put together a game plan for the top teams. On top of that, they will not have the skill level to easily knock off a better team without added preparation time. So I could see this day off benefiting an underdog should one make it to the championship game.

There are two things that are certain: healthier, better-prepared teams will make this a much more exciting game to watch and the extra day will make the Greenville social scene that much more interesting. I just hope that the teams that miss out stick around for the championship game. If I could figure out how to finish my thesis and get out there, I would. But I will settle for following the games from afar.

To the games (where Nick is 31-19 and Jac is 27-23 after a push last week)...

Coyne is still trailing so that means...another 10-game speed round!

No. 16 Pittsburgh (7-2) at No. 18 Northeastern (7-3) – Friday, 7 p.m.

COYNE: Similar to any hope I have of winning this competition, it's 'Make or Break' weekend for the Panthers if they want to keep stay alive for an AQ bid to Greenville (they still have a shot at Sparty for the CCLA bid). Unfortunately for Pitt, Northeastern is in the same spot. Still, I'll hold out for some faceoff domination and at least five goals from Tyler Novotny. Panthers, 7-6.

SCHOOLER: This is a matchup between two evenly matched teams. In fact, any team ranked in the teens is evenly matched and fighting for those last few at-large spots in South Carolina. While Northeastern is playing Boston University the night before this game, it will not be an issue since Pitt has struggled on the road. Huskies win, 13-10.

No. 12 Boston College (6-4) at No. 23 Connecticut (6-1) – Friday, 7 p.m.

COYNE: Schooler has quickly turned into a BC honk after seeing them play in SoCal, so I have to figure out whether I'm ready for Storrs to now be the epicenter of the PCLL. O.K., I'm in. Huskies, 5-4.

SCHOOLER: The Eagles hit a rough patch on their trip to California and have come to the realization that the PCLL is not going to be a gimme. Another loss for Boston College takes them out of the at-large hunt. This is a must-win and I see them knocking off the up-and-coming Huskies, 6-4.

Central Florida (9-6) at Florida (6-5) – Friday, 8 p.m.

COYNE: There's not quite as much talent as when these two have squared off in past years, but there's a ticket to the SELC tournament on the line. Adapting (and butchering) an oft-used poker maxim, all you need is a bid and a ball when you get to the postseason, so these guys should be going all out. I'll take the home field. Gators, 14-13.

SCHOOLER: This season has not been nice to the Florida teams. Once the power of the SELC, there seems to have been a dropoff this spring. The Knights have not played well on the road this season, but they will have no problem handling the struggling Gators, 15-10.

No. 25 Chico State (7-2) at No. 10 California (8-2) – Friday, 7 p.m. PT

COYNE: Chico State has done a nice job in the past couple of years playing giant killer – including knocking off Stanford this past weekend – and I know Nick will be riding the Bears. I'll give the Wildcats a tumble, hoping that the zone defense still has some magic left in it and goalie Gabriel Gilleran can post a monster game. California State University at Chico, 10-8.

SCHOOLER: Berkeley wins this 21-0. Does not matter who they are playing. Go Bears!

No. 15 Stanford (5-4) at No. 17 Sonoma (6-2) – Saturday, 1 p.m. PT

COYNE: I was hoping the Cardinal would pan out for me last week and I could steal one from Schooler. As things panned out, I've got to run with the Seawolves. 'Noma. 5-3.

SCHOOLER: I have been called out quite a lot in the past for hating on Sonoma, but I have no issues with them, and when they play the Cardinal, what other choice do I have? If Mike Clothier plays the way he did in the second half against Texas, this will be no problem for Sonoma. The Seawolves win, 10-7.

No. 1 St. Thomas (9-0) at No. 4 St. John's (5-2) – Saturday, 1 p.m. CT

COYNE: If I'm going to make it back from this four-game deficit in the twilight of this season, it's going to take an upset pick or two to pay off. With the Johnnies playing at home – they're only true home contest of the entire season – and the history between the two schools, this is where I'm going to make my move. St. John's lack of scoring punch is unsettling, but I'll take the plunge. Johnnies, 8-7 (double overtime).

SCHOOLER: I will stick with my early season strategy for picking DII games. I will trust the voters and go with the higher ranked team. If I only had more time and interest in following DII, I would be up a few more games on Jac. Tommies win 8-5.

Iowa (4-3) at Missouri (5-2) – Saturday, 1 p.m. CT

COYNE: Iowa beat Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl and I think this one will follow the same script. The Hawkeyes will jump out to an early lead, only to see the Tigers respond and grab the advantage late. But an ill-advised Misery turnover will spring Iowa for the late goal. Hawks, 9-8.

SCHOOLER: I have tried to lure Jac into picking Iowa all season, but he just will not do it. So now he has lured me into picking Mizzou, I will not make the same mistake I made in my NCAA basketball championship bracket. I'm going with the Hawkeyes, 9-7.

Utah (5-4) at No. 11 Colorado (6-5) – Saturday, 4 p.m. MT

COYNE: Oof. Who picked this game? The Utes are doubling down against CSU and Colorado, and we expect anything but trouble? Granted, the Buffs are a bit of a wild card this spring, but they are coming off the BYU win. I'll take the Buffs FTW, 11-5.

SCHOOLER: Colorado has found their stride and will be an easy choice for the selection committee even if they do not surprise the league by winning the RMLC. Utah does not stand a chance against the Redhotbuffs. Colorado wins easily 12-7.

No. 16 Pittsburgh (7-1-1) at No. 12 Boston College (6-4) – Saturday, 7 p.m.

COYNE: Both of these teams will be running on fumes in this contest. Pitt has its game against Northeastern and the Eagles are on the road for a key conference game against UConn. I won't go so far as to call it a must-win game for BC, but it's pretty close. The Eagles will produce in the clutch. BC, 11-8.

SCHOOLER: Again, this is do-or-die for the Eagles. Same goes for Pitt, but the Eagles will prove to be too much for Panthers on the road and the Panthers will need to win the CCLA. BC wins this game 10-8.

Illinois (6-2) at Minnesota-Duluth (5-6) – Sunday, 12 p.m. CT

COYNE: The winner of the Cal Poly sweepstakes will be the loser of this game. In short, this one's for the No. 16 seed. Illinois' has got the prettier record, but Duluth has the tougher resume. And we're playing this one in Lower Canada. It'll be the Dawgs in a walk, 13-8.

SCHOOLER: Illinois had its time in the spotlight, but has had a lackluster season so far. While Duluth has struggled to pick up wins, they have played one of the toughest schedules in the league. They will cruise by the Illini, 15-7.

Schooling Schooler Archive

Week Eight: The Problem With Polls
Week Seven: When Will Duluth Break Through?
Week Six: The MCLA's Internecine Snobbery
Week Five: Finally, the Buffaloes Stampede
Week Four: Spartans Make Their Stand
Week Three: Wither the Sun Devils?
Week Two: Nick's Bittersweet Weekend
Week One: Time to Feed the Ego


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