Practice pennies, neon green laces, new faces and the promise of a new season not far off -- all signs point to fall ball, college lacrosse's annual rite of initiation.
With 2010 in the books and 2011 in mind, LMO's "Fall Ball Blitz" series checks in with coaches and players around the country for the latest developments.
RECENT "FALL BALL
BLITZ" STORIES | ARCHIVE
Gauchos Eyeing a Return to the Top
|Familiar Sight: Expect to see senior Nate Wellin, left,
feeding sophomore CJ Jacobs quite a bit this spring as UC Santa
Barbara attempts to re-ascend the MCLA ranks.
© Nick Schooler
Mario Waibel, UC Santa Barbara's third-year head coach said it best: "UCSB was not one of the MCLA elite. It was the MCLA elite."
With three consecutive appearances in the MCLA title game and back-to-back championships in 2003-04, the Gauchos were once sitting atop the non-varsity world. But just six years later in the spring of 2010, UCSB failed to make the tournament.
There were some rough times. In Waibel's first year after the departure of Mike Allan, the Gauchos qualified for the tournament but were bounced in the first round. That was followed by last year's near miss. With disappointing losses in key rivalry contests and against former easily-dispatched foes, it wouldn't be a surprise for the natives – alums and boosters – to get a little restless.
Somewhat surprisingly, Waibel has felt nothing but support as he rebuilds the proud franchise.
"I don't think anyone has not believed in where we're trying to get to and the path we're taking to get there," said Waibel. "Recently, I've felt some more energy coming out of the woodwork. More than criticism it has been excitement about what's to come and that's a mark of a program with a long history. People aren't here for a quick-hitter or for one game. People who have played with this program and support this program want it to be one of the best, and they can see we're moving back to that MCLA elite status."
The payoff may come sooner for the Gaucho backers than they might think. Typically it takes a coach four years to transition a program to where he wants it, but the results might be evident in 2011.
"I'm hoping to be a year ahead of schedule," said Waibel. "Our freshman class worked out way better than I thought they would last year and the juniors and seniors have really bought into the program. Now with this freshman class, bolstered by the transfers, gives us a little more depth in our upperclassmen. That is what is going to help us take off."
Depth is going to be a key for UCSB. In tight games last year, Waibel was forced to shorten an already lean bench, sometimes leaving the Gauchos with an empty tank at crunch time.
"Running at full speed for four quarters without a break is
tough, and some guys were asked to do that," said Waibel.
Heading into this fall, both the midfield and attack have been replenished, and the already stacked defense is expected to be even better. It's the kind of balance that harkens back to the halcyon days in Santa Barbara.
"You have to make a lot of sacrifices and a lot of these players did for the greater good," said Waibel. "It's hard, but there was a lot of selfless behavior that is making the vision possible."
FALL BALL BLITZ
Team: UC Santa Barbara
2010 Record: 10-6 (4-1 WCLL)
2010 In Review: A strong defense allowed a young Gauchos squad to stay in the hunt for Denver until the end. A slow start and lack of signature wins kept UCSB on the sidelines when the bids were announced.
Goodbye... Ryan Sanders. He generated a ton of offense out of the midfield (25g, 8a) and accepted a mentoring role for the young Gauchos team last spring. "Anytime I needed anything in the middle of the field, that's where the ball went," said Waibel. "His personality and his presence, both on the field and on the sidelines, will be missed." The graduation of Zach Carson also leaves a void.
Hello... Taylor Gilbert. Gilbert returns to California after taking a shot in the NCAA with Delaware. Not only will he provide more depth in the midfield, but an older presence for still-young UCSB. "He's going to be a difference-maker," said Waibel. "He's just basically the person who'll replace Sanders."
Offseason Developments: The Gauchos will be anxiously waiting to see the improvement of a couple of freshmen who were redshirted last year because of injury, but are expected to play huge roles in 2011. Dan Nevitt was expected to come in fight for minutes on close defense last year before blowing out his knee and Andrew Nota had the potential to push for minutes in the net before breaking his thumb. Both are expected to be ready to roll by the end of fall ball. UCSB also brings in former UCLA head coach and former Rutgers goalie Lane Jaffe. "He's really going to help our young goalie corps," said Waibel of Jaffe. "They'll have training right from the start on how we want to play and that will be invaluable. We're just fortunate to have him."
Big Question: As with any young team, can the Gauchos find some consistency from game to game? UCSB showed some polish, especially against the top teams in the country, but often stumbled against weaker teams. "We did a really good job at the end of last season and we need to continue that momentum," said Waibel. "We're young, so it's going to depend who is going to step up and be a leader."
Fall Schedule: The Gauchos had plans on attending the Adrenaline showcase on Nov. 14 that will feature Chapman and Arizona State, but it conflicts with UCSB's alumni weekend. So Waibel will take his team to a couple of as yet unplanned scrimmages against local teams like Loyola Marymount. Most of the competition will be intrasquad, as well as against local men's club teams, however. "I'm not big on showing people what we've got," laughed Waibel.
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