It might not have been the selection night that anybody was hoping for at the start of the year, but the MCLA officially announced its eight-team field for the 2021 MCLA Invitational last night as the league works to claim some kind of champion despite the issues stemming from the pandemic.
After losing the season entirely in 2020, the MCLA has clearly decided that it can’t go two years without some form of national tournament. Enter the MCLA Invitational, a three-day tournament in Round Rock, Texas. Eight teams were selected from a 25-team pool by the MCLA’s 17-man selection committee.
BYU, Chapman, Clemson, Concordia-Irvine, Georgia Tech, Liberty, LSU, and Utah Valley were the select few invited to the 2021 MCLA Invitational. The tournament has shifted to an East-West format, with the Mississippi River serving as the dividing line between the eastern and western divisions. The No. 1 seed out of the East will play the No. 4 seed out of the West, and so on down the line.
Thus, the first-round matchups will be Chapman (5-0) vs. LSU (3-2), BYU (8-1) vs. Liberty (4-2), Concordia-Irvine (5-4) vs. Clemson (3-3), and Georgia Tech (5-0) vs, Utah Valley (4-4). The tournament will be single elimination, meaning we start basically at the quarterfinals, with the winning teams from round one advancing to the semifinals right away without any sort of round-robin group play.
With the tournament format laid out, let’s take a look at our first-round matchups and make a few predictions.
2021 MCLA Invitational First Round
#1W Chapman vs #4E LSU
The SLC’s nominal champion, Chapman enters the tournament at 5-0 and the top seed out the West. It’s already posted wins this season against fellow invitees BYU and Utah Valley, and it’s got one last regular season game against Concordia-Irvine, meaning the Panthers could enter nationals having already beaten three of the seven teams also in attendance.
The Panthers, coached by an MCLA great in Dallas Hartley (154-39 career record at Chapman), are likely the favorite to win the 2021 MCLA Invitational. Led by a pair of senior attackmen in Garrett Stemmler (24G, 4A) and George McGuirk (18G, 7A), the Panthers have plenty of experience to lead them through this tournament. Still, the biggest story for Chapman this year might be the emergence of freshman goalie Jason Bohlinger. The Yorba Linda native has put up a stunning 68% save rate in his first season for the Panthers, including a 13-save performance in a one-goal triumph over BYU.
LSU, on the other hand, likely earned its spot here based on two one-goal wins against fellow nominee TCU. Unlike the Panthers, the Tigers are led offensively not by their attack but by their midfield. Sophomore midfielder Caleb Monzon (8G, 10A) leads the team in points, while senior midfielder Ron Johnson (10G, 3A) leads the team in goals. The Tigers also have a potential advantage at the faceoff X, where freshman middie Matt Bates has won 67% of his draws this season. Despite strengths elsewhere, Chapman doesn’t have a single faceoff man winning half of their draws so far this season, meaning LSU could be in to at least win the possession battle at the stripe. The Tigers also have multiple options in cage, and both Doug McCoy and Henry Ballard have seen time in the net for the Tigers this season and performed at a high level.
Prediction: Chapman 15 – LSU 5
#2W BYU vs #3E Liberty
It’s BYU versus Liberty in our second quarterfinals matchup. BYU enters the invitational 8-1 on the year, with its only loss coming in a one-goal game against No. 1 Chapman. The Cougars probably have the most experience heading into the tournament. Not only have they played nine games (more than any other team in attendance), but they’ve also scrimmaged Westminster (NCAA DII), Adams State (NCAA DII), and Air Force (NCAA DI) as part of their spring season so far.
Partially due to more games, BYU has five players with double-digit points. The team is led in scoring by attackmen Seth Garff (23G, 8A) and Jake Halversen (12G, 7A). Considering both are sophomores, this is a good team with an even brighter future. The Cougars are also home to one of the best goalies in the MCLA, as former All-American Mason Moon is back from his mission and has posted a whopping 73% save rate so far this season for the Cougs. Moon, along with his defense, have allowed double-digit goals just once all season, in an 11-10 win over fellow invitee Concordia-Irvine.
Liberty arrives at the 2021 MCLA Invitational with a 4-2 clip, its two losses coming at the hands of fellow invitees Georgia Tech and Clemson. Stylistically, the Flames are sort of the opposite of what has made BYU great. They’ve scored double-digit goals in every game so far this season, averaging 15.6 goals-per-game as a squad. The starting attack line of Cooper Branham, Jackson Miller and Caleb Britton have combined for 62 points through six games, with all three being at the top of the team in total points. The Flames actually have six players in double-digit points, one more than the Cougars despite three fewer games. Where they lack is in those areas where BYU is better, specifically on defense. Senior goalie Ryan Reynolds is averaging more than 16 saves a game, and every opponent has scored at least eight on the Flames.
This game is definitely a battle of two opposites with the high-scoring Flames and the defensively-minded Cougars. I expect the BYU offense is stronger than the Liberty defense, in terms of the weaker units.
Prediction: BYU 13 – Liberty 8
#3W Concordia-Irvine vs #2E Clemson
Getting a read on Concordia-Irvine is a little bit weird, if we’re being honest. At 5-4, the Eagles have been rather up and down. Look no further than their two games against BYU, one of which they lost by eight and the next they lost by just a single goal. It certainly feels like that first beating by BYU righted the ship. Since losing to the Cougars on April 1, the Eagles have gone 4-1, with that lone loss coming in the aforementioned rematch against BYU. During that span, they went from scoring 10 goals a game to scoring 16.6 goals per contest. They also still have a game remaining against Chapman before the 2021 MCLA Invitational.
The Eagles made one of the bolder moves this season, taking All-American defenseman Tyler Collins and slotting him into the offense instead. It’s paid off, as Collins (10G, 21A) leads the team in points. They’ve also got a pair of young attackmen making their mark, as Chad McFadden and Daxton Allison have combined for 45 goals this season. If there’s a weak spot on this team, at least in comparison to its fellow attendees, it’s likely in the cage, where senior goalie Tyler Schweickert is providing solid but not special production (54%).
Clemson enters the tournament at 3-3, although a scrimmage against High Point (NCAA DI) could have provided good value. The Tigers’ losses came at the hands of Georgia Tech and South Carolina, two top-tier teams, as well as Virginia Tech. The Tigers are led offensively by senior attackman Devon McIntyre, who swapped over from midfield this season and has since led Clemson with 21 goals on the year. The biggest strength of this Tigers’ team likely comes at the faceoff X, where sophomores Jack McSally and Alec Frank have combined to win 68% of their draws. Clemson, too, has one of the lower save percentages as a team, though, so this could be a shootout.
Prediction: Concordia-Irvine 18 – Clemson 14
#4W Utah Valley vs #1E Georgia Tech
You can say a lot about UVU, but you can’t say it was afraid to play anybody this season. Entering the tournament at 4-4, the Wolverines had scrimmaged against Adams State (NCAA DII), CSU-Pueblo (NCAA DII), Westminster (NCAA DII), and Air Force (NCAA DI). They’ve also played the likes of Chapman, BYU, Concordia-Irvine, and Grand Canyon this season. They didn’t get the results they wanted in every game, but this is a battle-tested squad rolling into Round Rock.
Utah Valley failed to reach double-digit goals just once this season in a loss to Chapman. It’s also a senior-heavy squad, led by a quartet of them in leading scorers Spencer Tunick, Chad Renslow, Payton Kimber, and Preston Burbidge, who have racked up 67 of the team’s 117 points so far this season. UVU also has a senior in cage, as Kade Arbon holds down the fort in net with a 61% save rate.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech enters the 2021 MCLA Invitational once again the kings of the East. The Yellow Jackets are a perfect 5-0 just like Chapman, with wins over both Clemson and Liberty. The team is averaging 15 goals a game while allowing just nine. The Yellow Jackets have found good production from 2019 All-Tournament attackman Devin Raun, who is second on the team in points once again, but it’s been a breakout year for freshman attackman Pierce Quarles, who leads the team in scoring with 14 goals and 10 assists so far through five games (a single point shy of 5 points-per-game).
If there’s a concern for the Yellow Jackets, typically one of the strongest MCLA programs out east, it’s in net, where they’ve already experimented with five different goalies who have seen time in cage this season. Senior Robert Kruszeski is the presumed starter, but he’s saving just 45% of shots coming his way. That could prove dangerous against a team like Utah Valley, who have a sneakily strong offense.
Prediction: Utah Valley 12 – Georgia Tech 11 (OT)
National Championship Prediction
BYU defeats Chapman, 8-6.