|The name on the front of the jersey may no longer
intimidate like it once did, but Cal Poly has already knocked off a
pair of nationally ranked teams during its first day of action at
the Santa Barbara Shootout.|
© Dirk Dewachter
Cal Poly: The Year After
Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The coach of a nationally-ranked WDIA program was overheard on the sidelines of the Santa Barbara Shootout uttering a familiar refrain: "I saw them last weekend at a scrimmage. It's Cal Poly and then the rest of the WDIA."
Are the Mustangs to be considered prohibitive favorites for the national title again this year even after losing to Colorado State in overtime of last year's championship game?
Or was the statement just a reflex; a verbal remnant from the seven-straight crowns Cal Poly won between 2001 and 2007?
The answer won't be known until the top teams - and Cal Poly will undoubtedly be one of them - gather in Phoenix later this spring for the tournament.
But what is known is the Cal Poly coaching staff and players are still searching for the most appropriate way to treat last year's setback, even if it's sometimes contradictory.
"It's not like we come in with the expectation that the national championship is ours," said Mike Windall, the Mustangs' second-year head coach. "We have to earn it. From day one, we said last year doesn't matter."
"But at the same time last year does matter, because we had a great season," countered Jaime Oetman, the captain of last year's team and now an assistant for the team. "We made it to the national championship game and no one ever expected us to. We're very proud of that."
It is understandable that the coaching staff would have a difficult time finding the right role for the 2007 season. On one hand, Cal Poly finished the regular season with an un-Poly-like record of 10-7 and had their title streak snapped. On the other, the Mustangs were written off early in the season when they started out 3-3, and still managed to be an overtime session away from No. 8.
While Windall and Oetman differ on the existential meaning of the ‘07 campaign, the team has come to grips with what happened and will use it as a guide this year.
"We're using it as more of an educational game to figure out what we need to work on," said junior captain Amber Curry. "It wasn't like it ruined our season because we lost; it's just that the game happened. There are going to be games like that. It was just too bad it was in the final game."
One of the key questions will be how Cal Poly handles opponents who are no longer wary of the Mustangs invincibility. More than one coach at the Santa Barbara Shootout said that in the past, Cal Poly would win games before they started just on the sheer weight of its reputation.
Is that fear factor gone, and can the program get it back?
Judging from the results so far at the Shootout, second-ranked Cal Poly isn't intimidating anyone. No. 6 Michigan took the Mustangs to the wire in one of Saturday's early games before bowing, 7-6. In the late game, No. 8 Lindenwood raced out to a 6-0 lead before succumbing to a late blitz by Cal Poly, 11-9.
No. 3 Colorado and No. 1 Colorado State await the Mustangs on Sunday.
The team is still winning, but the name on the front of the jersey isn't instilling the fear it once did.
If they worry about such matters, it doesn't show. Outwardly, the Mustangs almost enjoy it when their program is eulogized.
"Yes, we lost in the national championship game, but we still got there," said Windall. "Ultimately that's the final goal of every team, and we're not any different. It starts with game one and ends with the championship."
"It definitely gave us motivation for this year; let's come back and be that much stronger and prove that we still have it," said Curry. "We're treating it as if nothing has ended and it's not over."
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