With fall ball just around the corner, the MCLA is about to get rolling once again. The powerhouse teams like Colorado and Arizona State will once again be among the favorites this season. Favorites are fun to watch, they’re a safe bet, but they’re not the fun of the tournament. Sure, they often win the tournament, but the real fun comes in the upsets.
Last year, we saw two huge upsets, as Stanford took down BYU in round one and Virginia Tech took down a presumed favorite in ASU. Those were some exciting games, and, really, who doesn’t love a Cinderella story? Following that train of thought, let’s take a look at five MCLA D1 teams that could shock the powerhouses this season.
Texas State Bobcats
Last year’s LSA champions showed a lot of improvement over the course of the season. They started off the season going 3-4, including an 18-6 loss against Colorado. The rough start, combined with the fact that the Bobcats are often overshadowed by their in-state rivals over in Austin, got them written off by a lot of folks. The response? Texas State rattled off eight straight wins, won the LSA tournament, and earned themselves a spot at nationals.
While they lost in the first round against Colorado, the final score of 8-5 shows a lot of improvement over the course of the year from the 18-6 stomping in February. For 2016, the Bobcats return both of last season’s All-Americans in midfielder Bucky Desadier and defenseman Zane Zoda. With a strong returning cast, I expect Texas State to win the LSA once again and be right back at it come May.
Player to watch: Bucky Desadier, Midfield
Florida State Seminoles
New blood in at coaching could be exactly what the ‘Noles need to finally make earn a playoff berth. This was a team that finished 11-0 in the regular season in 2014, only to collapse in the conference semifinals and miss out. Last year, a particularly difficult strength of schedule kept FSU out of the tournament, with close losses to four different eventual tournament teams.However, the close losses could easily turn into close wins this year.
— FSU Lacrosse (@FSULacrosse) October 9, 2015
A full year of tough competition should bring a seasoned team back this season, and with defensive coordinator Jerry Delorenzo taking over head coaching duties, this squad could definitely make the jump. This squad featured underclassmen at over half the starting spots, and a strong junior class could definitely be in for a dominant season. I expect that coaching switch to help solidify the defense, and attackman Davis Goodman (a freshman HM All-American) should keep on improving to lead this offense. An experienced core of juniors means that the ‘Noles time is coming, and 2016 could be the year they make the leap.
Player to watch: Davis Goodman, Attack
Boise State Broncos
Last year, the Broncos made the leap from a PNCLL afterthought to a real competitor in the conference. Credit that improvement to a strong freshman class, in combination with Coach of the Year Jon Mundy providing his leadership in his first season in the position. Boise State defeated the Oregon Ducks for the first time in program history, making the PNCLL playoffs as the third seed.
What makes the Broncos PNCLL contenders in 2016? Start with their returning class. Adam Smith returns for his senior season, having won the conference’s MVP award last season. Returning with him is fellow PNCLL All-Conference player Liam Finn and veteran long pole David Manning. Joining them are a ton of new faces, from transfers to freshman, BSU is stacking up.
This squad should only get better in 2016, and it’s the perfect time to do so. Fraser graduated a lot of talent, Oregon State lost a lot of offense, and Oregon has been in rebuilding mode. If the Broncos can improve on their 2015 campaign and schedule stronger opponents early in the year, they might just win the PNCLL and find themselves at nationals in 2016.
Player to watch: Adam Smith, Midfield
I know, I know. Arizona isn’t exactly the biggest underdog in the MCLA. However, poor Arizona found themselves on the outside looking in for nationals last season, despite LaxPower ranking them as the 8th best team in the nation. Credit that to four straight losses to end the 2015 campaign, each one of them against top ten opponents. In fact, every single loss that the Laxcats suffered last season came at the hands of a top ten team, and not one of those teams scored more than ten goals.
The good news for Arizona is that they return that lockdown defense for the 2016 campaign, led by the returning senior goalie Tanner Knego, last year’s pick for the best goalie in the nation. The biggest obstacles for Arizona are its offense and its conference. In its losses last season, the Laxcats’ offense averaged just six goals. This team needs to improve its firepower if it wants to make a run this season. The biggest problem that Arizona faces is its conference. The SLC is possibly the toughest conference in the entire MCLA, rivaled only by the RMLC. The Laxcats have the defense to survive the SLC and win the MCLA, but they’ll need their offense to find the back of the net more this season to get there.
Player to watch: Tanner Knego, Goalie
Oregon is no stranger to the national spotlight, but recently the Ducks have struggled. Last year marked three losses to teams (Boise State, Idaho, Washington) that the Ducks had never lost to before. With a 3-10 campaign in 2015, the Ducks are out of the national spotlight, and that sets them up to be the surprise hit of 2016.
This new Oregon team returns all but their goalie from a defense that still managed to allow just 9 goals-per-game last season, despite their record. The Ducks’ struggles last year came from an offense that failed to score. An off-season coaching switch that saw long-time assistant Jon Bongiorno take over as head coach could be just what the Ducks need to rejuvenate the offense. This team has been young the last two years, and it’s time for the Ducks to reap the rewards of that core. With a large group of upperclassmen, a new head coach, and a lot less pressure on them this season, don’t be surprised if the Ducks shock a PNCLL conference that has started to write them off.
Player to watch: Justin Anthony, Defense