MCLA Division I Notebook
They were oh so close. Georgia Tech, which hadn't advanced past the first round of the SELC tourney since their current crop of freshman hit puberty, was 30 minutes away from punching its ticket to Greenville. But then a lightning storm rolled in, snatching away any momentum the Yellow Jackets had in the championship game on Sunday, allowing hated rival Georgia to avenge a loss from a week earlier and head back to nationals for the first time since 2008.
It was a disappointing ending for the Wreck, but just how bummed out should Ken Lovic's kids be?
"For what we were expecting this year, the guys have exceeded where I thought we'd be at this point," Lovic said. "The team has matured quicker than I thought they would. We had a lapse there in the middle of the season against a couple of solid teams in Auburn and NC State where I think our guys thought a little more of themselves and thought it would be a little easier when they got back from Spring break. That wakeup call helped a lot. Because they were so young, their maturity level and their ability to listen and be coachable was definitely a faster growth spurt."
It's important to know that Georgia Tech was a painfully young team. Twenty-five of the 34 players on the roster are either freshmen or sophomores. Add to that the departure of Michael Thomas, who accounted for nearly a third of the Yellow Jackets' goals last spring, but ended up transferring to Virginia (not to play lacrosse).
So when Tech lost to Auburn on March 30, putting them behind the eight ball in terms of being in the top two in the Southwest division of the SELC, there was the possibility that the Jackets would crumble under the pressure. Or they could be oblivious.
"The good part about the youth is they had no idea," Lovic said. "They knew it was a costly loss in terms of a regional game, but panic is probably not the right word. They weren't sure what it menat. They knew they screwed up, and we sat down them with and said we have a 16 game schedule, but there are only five games that matter in terms of what our goals are."
As things played out, Alabama beating Auburn took away any of the tie-breaker concerns, and then the victory over a then-ranked Georgia team sealed the deal for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets appeared to be getting back to the team that started the season, grinding down the opposition, such as the dastardly, 2-1 victory over Boston University. But It didn't happen by accident.
On the bus ride home after the loss to NC State, which was clearly the low point of the season, Lovic and his assistant, E.J. Freeman, realized the players weren't quite understanding what they were hoping to accomplish. So they made an alteration.
"We changed our film session," Lovic said. "We used to do it the traditional way, but then we realized that we had to make this a numbers game. These are Tech kids. So E.J. started doing all sorts of stats based on the game tapes. Getting them to understand where we're effective on offense and defense. Was transition our game or was it 6-on-6? What was our number on shots per possession? Were they quality shots? He gave them something more tangible for a Tech kid to understand, which was interesting.
"It was something that we had never done before. We were asking ourselves, 'How could they not get this?' We took so many low-percentage shots and had numerous bad possessions. Once we educated them a little bit about that, there was a spark."
Ultimately, the Yellow Jackets fell a half short of their goal. It's a disappointment that will linger, but should provide a catalyst for a young team with the talent to be a dominant player on the SELC — and perhaps national — scene in 2014.
- Some perceptions are hard to shake. The MCLA will always deal with the stigma of being a club ball league, regardless of all the efforts by its players, coaches and administrators. I run into it on nearly a daily basis just covering the sport, so I'm sure what people in the trenches are dealing with is ten-fold more frustrating. Alas, there are times when members of the association bring it on themselves.
Rhode Island committed to a game with Brigham Young at the beginning of the season that was supposed to be played this past weekend. It was an odd matchup, but it was heartening to see a PCLL team making the trip out to Provo to try and gain a little notoriety. Getting a game with one of the MCLA's signature franchises isn't easy to do, but Matt Schneck and BYU opened a date for the Rams the day before a big rivalry game in order to foster the growth of the league. For that, they should be commended.
Alas, they were rewarded with a forfeit.
It's not easy to make a cross-country trip so close to exams and conference tournament time, but no one twisted URI's arm into taking the game. They asked, were given a priceless opportunity, and bailed on their commitment. So the next time that a player or coach laments that they can't get games against the top teams in the league, remember this incident. And when someone makes a disparaging remark about club lacrosse, just know that members of the MCLA sometimes provide the basis.
- Here we go. Just a week out and here's what it's looking like:
No. 16 Wisconsin (GRLC) at No. 1 Colorado State (RMLC)
* - already won bids to nationals
- Congrats to Sonny Pieper, who was inducted into the SELC Hall of Fame at halftime of the conference championship game on Sunday. Pieper single-handedly brought the MCLA into the Internet age with his (now defunct) Collegelax.us website and was the first person who successfully got the word out about non-varsity lacrosse. The MCLA tried to match Pieper's efforts with a juvenile attempt at a monthly magazine (now defunct, although with a hefty price tag for MCLA members) and a painfully arcane marketing scheme, but it could never match the grass roots community-building efforts of Pieper.
Pieper earned the SELC honor for his work as a coach with Georgia Tech and as a top-drawer official at the collegiate and high school level (including the MCLA championships), but he will always be known as the individual who gave the MCLA a media presence. He's moved on to different challenges, but the MCLA is still searching for someone with Pieper's ability to unify the association.
- Every other conference in the MCLA is better, but the race for the GRLC championship (and the No. 16 seed at the nationals) is the most compelling around. All six of the teams who have qualified for the tournament — not including Illinois, which has represented the conference in two of the last three years but didn't make the league playoffs this year — have a legitimate chance at grabbing the AQ. It'll be an honor for whoever eventually wins it, but they will be saddled not only with a hefty bill for the Greenville trip, but also a date with Colorado State.
- The Lone Star Alliance has been just as much of outlier as the GRLC over the years in terms of competitiveness, but this year the conference has moved into the realm of the bizarre. It started with SMU, the top team in the North division, forfeiting its spot in the LSA tournament semifinals because it had been playing with an ineligible student-athlete. The Mustangs self-reported the indiscretion, but the late nature of the development put the league into a pickle.
Texas State, which was set to play SMU in the semis, was instead awarded with a Saturday game against Oklahoma, the first round winner that was slated to play Texas. It was a decision that essentially gave the Longhorns, the top seed out of the South division, a double bye into the championship game. As it played out, a massive thunderstorm prevented Texas State from playing the Sooners on Saturday night, pushing the game back to Sunday morning, and forcing the winner to play a double-header.
Texas State beat Oklahoma in the 9 a.m. contest, but was no match for a completely fresh Texas squad in the championship game two hours later, losing 13-6. The LSA is sending what is undoubtedly its best team, UT, to nationals, but the decision-making at the event raises questions. With Selection Sunday still a week away, why not just push the game back a couple of days and have Texas State travel to Texas — a half-hour drive — for the finale?
One of the likely reasons for the push is the presence of Comcast SportsNet, which was televising both the LSA D-I and D-II championship games on a tape delay basis. Getting MCLA games on television is great, and conferences should do everything they can to work with media outlets. But if it is also clearly compromising the spirit of competition and potentially the safety of the players, then the league needs someone to step up and do the right thing. The LSA didn't have that on Sunday.
- Boston College wrapped up its undefeated regular season with a sweep of Northeastern and Buffalo...Minnesota-Duluth downed Minnesota, 9-4, to capture the UMLL championship. The victory does not come with an AQ, so the 'Dawgs are likely on the outside of a trip to Greenville...Stanford's win over California allowed the Cardinal to breath easier in terms of an at-large bid, but it didn't change the dynamics in the WCLL. Sonoma is still the team to beat...Arizona State and UC Santa Barbara survived their SLC first round games. Chapman and Grand Canyon now await, respectively.