February 27, 2013

Schooling Schooler: Here Comes the WCLL

by Jac Coyne and Nick Schooler | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Cal Poly was the cream of the WCLL crop last year, advancing all the way to the championship game. This year, it appears as though the Mustangs might be the fourth-best squad in the WCLL, making it one of the deepest leagues in the country — a far cry from where it was just three years ago.
© Cecil Copeland

It's been an interesting ride for the Western Collegiate Lacrosse Conference.

Once one of the two big dogs in the MCLA, along with the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse Conference (RMLC), the WCLL sponsored all of the top California teams. Until 2009, when the conference spawned the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference, there was a WCLL team in seven of the first 12 MCLA national championship games, including four winners.

Since that schism in '09, which was caused as much by academic expectations as it was by geography, the WCLL has been trying to regain its footing. In '09, the remaining seven teams — California, Cal Poly, Chico State, Santa Clara, Sonoma, Stanford and UC Davis ‚ only sent two teams to nationals, with Poly losing in the first round and Sonoma getting destroyed by Michigan in the quarterfinals.

The following year saw the league's nadir as the lone qualifier, Cal Poly, was seeded at No. 14 and was met with a quick exit. It was just a one-bid conference again in '11 (Cal Poly), but with a slightly more respectable ninth-seed, although it was once again one-and done for the Mustangs.

There was an awakening last year. Both the Poly and Cal qualified for the tournament, with the Mustangs making it all the way to the title game.

And now this year.

Stanford is a lead-pipe lock for Greenville. Cal has given us a reason to believe it's going to be there in the end. Sonoma State still has to live up to its preseason hype, but conventional wisdom says the Seawolves have the juice and schedule to draw the selection committee's eye. And while the jury is still out on Cal Poly, it has plenty of chances to get back into the mix.

I'll admit it: I thought the WCLL was a dying conference after the 2010 campaign. They just weren't very competitive with the high programs. But here it is now with a legitimate shot at sending four teams to the national tournament, especially with the extra at-large bid this spring. I think they'll get three bids, but a fourth isn't out of the question.

Nick, I'm sure you have a dubious WCLL "Scholar-Athlete" award on your resume from the old days. Are you surprised at the conference's comeback and, more importantly, would you consider the WCLL the best conference, top to bottom, in the country?

SCHOOLER: I don't think I ever got a WCLL "Scholar-Athlete" award. Or at least I don't remember getting one because I wake up every morning to my All-America and Academic All-America awards sitting behind my bedroom door. But you wouldn't know about those sorts of things because you were busy interning for the Colby Echo in college. But let's not get into who had a better undergraduate experience, because I think UCSB trumps anything Colby could have offered.

The WCLL isn't the best conference in the country. It is not even close. However, before the split, this was a very heated argument among fans of club lacrosse. Even though I am a California homer, I can concede that the RMLC was, and is, the better conference.

Colorado State and BYU have always been in the running for the national championship. Utah and Colorado are not too bad, either. There were no bad teams in the RMLC back in my day whereas there were plenty of bad teams in the WCLL. If you just looked at the top teams (Sonoma & UCSB versus Colorado State & BYU), it was a toss-up, but if you look at the conference as a whole, the RMLC was the clear favorite.

The new WCLL does not have a consistent championship contender even though Cal Poly made a major push last year. So there is no argument. The RMLC is currently the better conference, but this is how I think the WCLL can, and will, improve.

In 2002, lacrosse became a California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) recognized sport. So we had to say goodbye to high school club teams and hello to varsity programs. Since that time, it has exploded. The suburbs around Los Angeles and the Bay Area are the best I have seen, developing some top NCAA recruits. Before that, it took a lot of exposure and good old luck if you got to play Division I lacrosse. And if you did, everyone in the California lacrosse community knew about it.

The players I knew growing up were Ryan Taylor (Berkeley High School), who was a two time All-American at Penn, and Spencer Wright (Serra High School), who was an All-American at Syracuse. We all wanted that opportunity. So as lacrosse began to grow in California, more and more guys were getting opportunities to play NCAA lacrosse. Slowly, the California talent was moving out of state.

This wasn't just kids going to top Division I programs; they were heading to small Division II and III schools, as well. The schools hosting these types of programs are a major change from good ol' California life. A lot of the guys only lasted a year before crawling back to the West Coast.

I don't agree that these kids should be packing up everything and abandoning the West Coast for an NCAA Division II or Division III experience. That is what the MCLA is all about. It gives lacrosse players a chance to play quality lacrosse at a school that does not offer NCAA lacrosse. In many instances, that experience can be just as good or better than D-II or D-III lacrosse. So I think that kids will soon realize that they can get a quality education and play great lacrosse, all while living it up, California-style. However, for an NCAA Division I scholarship, that all goes out the window.

It's a slow process, but I think you will begin to see more players like Stanford's Peter Doyle stick around. And when that happens, the WCLL and SLC will be back on top.

On to the games, where Schooler impressed last week with a 5-0 mark. It's still Coyne in the lead, 12-3 to 10-5...

Uh, oh. It's a 10-game speed round:

Arizona (1-2) at No. 19 Simon Fraser (4-1) - Friday, 1 p.m. PT

COYNE: They're a little raw right now, but the Wildcats will be a handful in the SLC postseason when they have a little more experience. Much respect for making the trip to Burnaby, but the Clansmen will be a bit too much. SFU, 15-10.

SCHOOLER: Neither team has looked very good this season. All Simon Fraser has to brag about is a close loss to Oregon in a game where both teams played sloppily. But I don't see Arizona winning this game. The Clan wins at home 9-6.

No. 9 Chapman (-2) at No. 2 Arizona State (4-0) - Friday, 7 p.m. MT

COYNE: If it doesn't figure things out quickly, Chapman could conceivably be a seven-loss team in the regular season. Alas, Arizona State is an underwhelming team in relation to its ranking. Devils barely, 8-6.

SCHOOLER: Chapman has had a rough start, but they seemed to bounce back against UNLV. This is a toss up in my mind, but I don't see the Panthers winning this on the road. ASU, 11-10. Possibly overtime.

Clemson (3-0) at Georgia Tech (5-2) - Friday, 7:30 p.m.

COYNE: No SELC team knows how to grind like the Yellow Jackets. Neither Tech nor their D-I opponents have cracked double-digits so far this season, and it isn't happening in this game. Ramblin' Wreck, at home, 7-5.

SCHOOLER: Clemson had a breakout season last year, but without Chris Buechele, can they continure where they left off? They have so far, so I'm taking Clemson in this one, 10-8.

No. 11 Virginia Tech (2-0) at Richmond (3-0) - Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: The Hokies had a lot of good vibes heading into this season, but goals aren't coming easily. The Hokies definitely have upset potential this weekend, but the defense saves them against a high-powered Richmond squad. Tech, 9-8.

SCHOOLER: These ridiculous scores continued to pop up on the MCLA scoreboard over the past few weeks. At closer look, it appeared to be Richmond demolishing its opponents. They are already in my Top 25 and I see them breaking into everyone's Top 25 with a win over the Hokies this weekend, 12-9.

No. 10 Pittsburgh (3-0) vs. Auburn (5-0) - Saturday, 7 p.m. (at Atlanta)

COYNE: The last time we saw production like Auburn's Mike Cusimano (23g, 10a in five games) in the SELC, it was coming off the stick of David Drehoff. Tyler Novotny should have an answer, however. Pitt, 16-13.

SCHOOLER: Auburn hasn't made a splash on the national scene since 2001. I don't see anything changing. Pitt wins, 12-7.

No. 5 Colorado (2-0) vs. No. 8 Oregon (4-1) - Saturday, 1 p.m. MT (at Boise)

COYNE: Oregon enters this game with the advantage of having Colorado play the night before against Boise State and having played tougher competition so far this spring. Will that be enough? I think it might be. Ducks, 10-9.

SCHOOLER: Colorado is the most intriguing team since I graduated. You never know what to expect with them. So I am going out on a limb here and picking the Buffs, 10-9.

No. 7 UC Santa Barbara (3-1) vs. No. 1 Colorado State (2-0) - Saturday, 1 p.m. PT (at Las Vegas)

COYNE: UNLV is no pushover, and the Gauchos have to play the Rebels the night before CSU. UC Santa Barbara was a long shot to upset the Rams anyway, and the schedule just made it even longer. Colorado State, 10-6.

SCHOOLER: Gauchos win 12-9 and take the No. 1 seed. Boo-ya!

No. 16 Boston College (2-0) at No. 15 Texas (6-0) - Monday, 7 p.m. CT

COYNE: The Longhorns are staring at games against UCSB and Sonoma next week, so this should be a nice tune-up. Boston College will be playing its third game in four days, which can't be downplayed. Texas gets a signature win, 12-9.

SCHOOLER: Boston College had a great season opener signature win against FSU, but from what we have learned, that Seminole team was not riding the success of past seasons. I hate to pick Texas, but I don't see any other outcome. 'Horns, 10-6.

Schooler's Pick

No. 17 Sonoma State (1-0) at No. 12 California (3-2) - Saturday, 7 p.m. PT

SCHOOLER: What have you done for me lately? For Sonoma, that's nothing. For the Bears, they played a great game against my Gauchos and Northeastern. For that, I have Berkeley winning, 10-7.

COYNE: This is a very important WCLL match-up and it comes at a point of the season that definitely favors the Golden Bears, who have played some of the best teams in the country already. The fact that the Seawolves are playing in Berkeley makes it more difficult for 'Noma. Cal, 12-10.

Coyne's Pick

Iowa (2-0) vs. TCU (5-1) - Saturday, 8 p.m. (at Athens, Ga.)

COYNE: This is the back half of a double-header for both teams, and they'll each be running on fumes. Conditioning will be on the side of the Horned Frogs, but Iowa won't mind a couple of extra sprints in the warmth of Georgia. Hawkeyes, 10-8.

SCHOOLER: Just to humor Jac, I will take TCU, 13-12.


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