April 11, 2013

Schooling Schooler: A Fond Farewell to the MCLA

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


In the final installment of Schooling Schooler, it's only appropriate that the Gauchos are one of the teams featured this week. And why not go out with an action shot from Schooler's photo journal?
© Nick Schooler

My first year covering the MCLA was in 2008, and it was an eye-opening experience. It was easy to get a grasp on the top teams — Michigan, BYU, Colorado State, UC Santa Barbara, etc. — but it was stunning to find all of the schools where kids were paying serious cash out of their own pockets to gain access to a competitive league. And there were the coaches, often being paid very little, but feeling the need to pay back the sport that had been a big part of their high school and college development.

There was no call for covering the sport by anyone here, but I had this need to give these players and coaches a platform as they toiled away without the notoriety that the varsity programs had. While it will be impossible to completely eradicate the antiquated "club lacrosse" concept in the minds of some, I tried my best to add a bit of credibility to the association by highlighting the achievements and spotlighting some of the key players and teams. The MCLA was going to continue to grow and find its voice regardless of who was covering it, but I hope my coverage helped in some small way.

At the conclusion of the 2013 season, it will be time for the MCLA and I to part ways. My job here at Lacrosse Magazine has changed slightly, meaning I'll be taking on new challenges and fine-tuning some old ones, and the MCLA is not in the plans. There is a certain level of disappointment, but I feel better knowing that the association has a wide array of voices covering it now, so it will remain a presence in the collegiate lacrosse discussion.

I'd like to thank all those who have helped me in my coverage of the MCLA. I'd also like to give a hearty thanks to Nick Schooler, who always delivered this column despite pursuing a doctorate degree and receiving no compensation. He has always had plenty of things going on in his life, but he is such an MCLA supporter that he always came through.

This will be the final edition of Schooling Schooler. I will cover the MCLA through the championships this year for LaxMagazine.com, but that will dry up once the trophies are handed out and my All-American teams announced.

The MCLA has never been about the coverage it receives. It has thrived over the years because of the hard work and dedication of all of those involved. I don't see that changing anytime soon and look forward to following the league as a casual fan in the future. Best of luck to everyone.

SCHOOLER: Since this is my last Schooling Schooler, I started reflecting on my involvement in club lacrosse. I started following club lacrosse back in 1996 when I saw my first game at Cal Berkeley. While I was a huge Syracuse fan at the time, I was aware that lacrosse was a sport that was gaining ground outside of the Northeast. My dad had played for half a season at Rochester before getting kicked off the team because he went on a spring break trip instead of going to practice. He loved the sport, so when a former Cal player started the first Berkeley youth team in 1997, I was on board and fell in love instantly.

With Cal being a dominant local team and only a small handful of West Coast players making the leap to NCAA Division I lacrosse, my family and I were more than content with playing in the MCLA (the USLIA at the time). So my brother began his college career at UC Santa Barbara in 2000.

After playing in seven exceptionally run national championship tournaments between my brother and me, I have no regrets. Winning two national championships and both of us receiving All-America honors helped, but as a college alumnus, I still struggle with explaining the MCLA to those who ask me about my college career.

They usually respond with, "Oh! So you played against Duke?" I tell them that I played club lacrosse and they usually put on a face of pity as if club lacrosse is an intramural sport. They do not understand that we put in just as much time as the NCAA athletes without all the perks.

I explain Title IX, which is a great thing. Then go into all the positive things the MCLA has to offer, such as 200-plus teams in two divisions, conference and national championships, and so on and so on. When I drop names like Michigan, Florida State, Colorado State, BYU, Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and any other big time sports school, they begin to realize the legitimacy of the MCLA and what an honor it is to play in the national championships or make the All-America team.

Without the perks that NCAA lacrosse has to offer, it has given us many tools to survive in the real world. I learned about managing a large budget, time management, teamwork, organizing large events, fundraising and communicating with all different types of people. I'm sure there are more things that I can't think of at this time.

I could have gone to play lacrosse at a Division II or III school, but why would I do that if the MCLA can offer just as good, if not a better, experience?

Jac has realized the important role that the MCLA provides. I thank him and all the readers for letting me express my views over the last four season. I know that I have come down hard on some teams, but I truly love every team out there, including Sonoma, Chapman, Duluth, Buffalo, Clemson and every Division II team that I have hated on. I have tried to stay away from criticizing any specific players or coaches because I know how much hard work goes into it.

I will continue to follow the club game and will probably chime in on the message boards quite frequently. I look forward to watching the MCLA evolve as teams like USC and Texas follow in the footsteps of Michigan, making the jump to NCAA lacrosse. Thanks again to Jac and the readers. Also, good luck to all the teams and players. It has been a fun ride. With one last week, this if my last chance to finally beat Jac.

On to the games, where Schooler has narrowed Coyne's lead to one game with a 4-1 week, 31-19 to 30-20.

Boston University (4-3) at Northeastern (5-4) - Friday, 7 p.m.

COYNE: The PCLL is shaping up to be a contest between Connecticut and Boston College, but these two Beanpot opponents have designs on crashing that party. Northeastern won't be intimidated by many teams, not after the Huskies have squared off against five ranked teams already. Yes, they are 1-4 against that competition, but the experience can't be underestimated. BU doesn't have the same pedigree, and the 2-1 loss to Georgia Tech is not something easily forgotten, but the Terriers are coming off an 8-5 win over reigning PCLL champion Buffalo.

BU only has one player with double-digit goal numbers — Anthony Baum, a sophomore out of Portland, Ore. (name sound familiar?) — but the defense has made up for the rest, helped by the play of junior netminder Kyle Lange (69.8 save percentage). Northeastern is similarly challenged on the offensive end — only Josiah Baker-Connick and Turner Simon have 10 goals — but they do have an advantage at faceoffs with Mike Lehman. It'll be a close affair, but BU makes the trip across town pay off. Terriers, 11-10.

SCHOOLER: Once again, it looks like crowning the PCLL champion will have to wait until after the championship game. I'm not sure I could even predict the top two teams. So this will be a great game to watch. BU is a young team, which means you do not know what to expect from them. They could come out on fire or lay a dud.

Of course I believe that the voracious Terriers could rip the Huskies to shreds, but what I saw from Northeastern when they played UCSB still impresses me. They came out very strong, but just ran out of gas. Conditioning won't be an issue in this game. Huskies win the dogfight, 14-9.

No. 17 Connecticut (4-1) vs. No. 23 Virginia Tech (9-6) - Friday, 7:30 p.m. (at Bel Air, Md.)

COYNE: The loss to Boston College on Tuesday took a little starch out of the Huskies, but it's important to remember that UConn has only been playing games for a month, unlike most of the other top teams. They are still in the process of getting better. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech seems like it has a solid game every week, and has certainly been a familiar name in this space. The Hokies enter this tilt as the more experienced team.

In its small sample size, UConn has shown itself to be a pretty solid defensive team. With the grinding nature of the Hokies this spring, that would point to a low-scoring slugfest, and I don't think either team would mind getting into that kind of clash. Kevin Canavan scores a couple of late goal to keep the Huskies in the at-large discussion. UConn, 8-6.

SCHOOLER: Both teams have very important games this weekend. A sweep of UConn and Michigan State could propel the Hokies into the national championship tournament conversation. Losses pretty much eliminates them. A sweep of Virginia Tech and Clemson could keep the Huskies in contention for an at-large bid should they lose the PCLL.

With that said, I do not see either team overlooking this game. It is a must win for both teams. With so many ups and downs this season for the Hokies, I find it hard to believe that they will be able to pull this one off. UConn wins 9-7.

No. 7 Sonoma State (10-2) at No. 6 UC Santa Barbara (9-4) - Sunday, 1 p.m. PT

COYNE: The result of this game is almost inconsequential. It's just nice to have one of the signature rivalries in the MCLA back after a hiatus. For those not familiar, the Seawolves and Gauchos were once the signature members of the old WCLL before the SLC split, and the rivalry rarely disappointed. The two even met in the '05 national championship game, with UCSB taking an 8-7 classic. Our boy Nick can tell you a little more about that tilt.

Since that game, both teams have gone through their trials. Each has slumped in the last five years, but with the eventual return of their prodigal coaches – UCSB's Mike Allan and 'Noma's Doug Carl – they have now reestablished themselves as Top 10 programs. This is a toss-up as far as I'm concerned, but since a.) I've doubted Sonoma all year and b.) Nicky is going to be throwing tortillas at the game, I'll take the visitors. Cossacks, 9-6.

SCHOOLER: Talk about a rivalry game! Even if one team was ranked and the other was not, this would be a great game to watch. Fortunately, the stars have aligned and Sonoma and UCSB are ranked #7 and #6, respectively. Most eyes will be on this game this weekend.

At one point, Sonoma was the dominant team in California. When the Gauchos took over, this rivalry was born. The 2005 national championship was never in doubt for us. Even when we were down by four goals at the half, we knew we would win it just like I know the Gauchos will win this one. UCSB takes it, 10-8. Ole!

Schooler's Pick

No. 24 Pittsburgh (9-4) at No. 14 Davenport (10-2) - Saturday, 3 p.m.

SCHOOLER: In my mind, the success of Davenport and GCU has been the most intriguing story of the year. I talked about the MCLA evolving in my introduction. This may be part of that evolution. Teams making the jump to Division I will now have higher standards of success now.

With the loss of Michigan, the CCLA has become competitive again. Pitt has embraced this parity thanks in large part to Tyler Novotny. Unfortunately for Pitt, they lost to MSU last week and have red hot Davenport this week. I am afraid that this is it for Pitt. Davenport wins in overtime, 11-10.

COYNE: Does the CCLA have the juice to get a second bid to the MCLA tourney? It's a good question, and it's one that could be answered in this contest. If Pittsburgh knocks off Davenport, it will put a huge dent in the Panthers' promising postseason resume. The Panthers are strictly an AQ-or-bust squad at this point, so they are in full spoiler mode.

Novotny is going to get at least three goals for Pitt, but Davenport is on a roll, thanks to the play of legitimate player of the year candidate Jordan Richtsmeier (27g, 38a). He goes for six points as the Panthers coast, 13-8.

Coyne's Pick

Purdue (4-3) at Indiana (9-2) - Saturday, 1 p.m.

COYNE: The GRLC has morphed into a full-blown pillow fight this spring, but that doesn't mean there aren't compelling games. OK, 'compelling' might be overstated, but whenever the Hoosiers and Boilermakers tangle for Indiana bragging rights, it's usually mildly interesting, anyway.

Indiana has the shiny record while Purdue has played a slightly better schedule, which amounts to a push. The Hoosiers have one of the quietly better players in the MCLA in Alex Eaton (32g, 9a) and a competent goalie in Peter Moore (69.7 save percentage). Alas, the Boilers feature Greg Behning (26g, 10a) and Palen Rhodes (22g, 10a), which all steers this game to a one-goal outcome. Not a big fan of road teams in this situation, but my sister got her MBA at Indiana, so I'll roll with the Hoosiers, 10-9.

SCHOOLER: Last week, I mentioned that Indiana could possibly win the GRLC and I still stand by that, and that has a lot to do with the coach, Peter Tumbas. He is one of those types of coaches that Jac mentioned in his introduction. I vaguely remember him as a player at Wooster. I think he contacted me at UCSB to see about his chances of leaving NCAA DIII lacrosse and playing with us. I'm not sure what his reasons were, but I like to think that it had to do with what the MCLA has to offer.

As a coach, I know Tumbas is passionate about the game and that translates down to the way his players play. Eaton, Brent Balek (28g, 4a) and Keegan McQuillion (18g, 14a) have been lights out for the Hoosiers. Shutting down Behning and Rhodes will be key for Tumbas and his players. If they can limit those two, they should be able to take this game, improving their chances of winning the GRLC. Indiana wins, 12-10.


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