When I did this last year, I chose Texas State, Florida State, Boise State, Arizona, and Oregon. Of those five MCLA D1 teams, only two made nationals, but I’m still very happy with the results.
Happy enough to try to pick five teams again that I think will surprise people in 2017.
The goal here is to find programs that I think are being overlooked. That could mean a darkhorse for the national title, a lower-seeded program that could upset a powerhouse in Orange County, or even just a team that I think isn’t getting the respect they deserve in their conference.
The only rules here are that the teams cannot finish 2016 as Top-10 MCLA D1 programs, I can’t repeat any from last year’s post, and the program can’t have previously won a national title.
With the rules laid out, let’s do this thing:
The Gauchos have the unfortunate reality of being a part of the SLC. That means that, in order to win their league, they need to take down Chapman, Grand Canyon, and the Arizonas. With that said, I don’t think that UCSB is getting enough love heading into 2017.
These guys were 9-4 last year, but those four losses came to Stanford, Chapman, Grand Canyon, and Colorado. That’s an incredibly tough lineup, and they still finished as the 11th best team in the nation.
This season, UCSB still has a hard lineup, but they avoid Grand Canyon. They could lose 2-3 games and still be a top ten team heading into conference playoffs. I believe in UCSB. They only graduated one of their top fifteen goal scorers. They return their goalie, and most of their defense. I can’t see a reason to think that the Gauchos won’t be better this season than last year.
Player to watch: Alex Dixon, A (51G,8A in 2016)
If the polls were based on Twitter, Georgia would be undefeated national champions for years now. Everybody in the nation loves the Bulldogs. What people seem to be forgetting is that the Bulldogs don’t just tweet, they also lax. And last season, they did a damn good job on the field, too.
They finished 15-2, and their only losses came to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Winning 15 games cannot be ignored. That’s crazy. This season, the Bulldogs picked up a game with Arizona State to boost their SOS.
I can definitely see the Bulldogs giving their SELC competition fits in 2017. Their attack line all returns, and they’re all studs. With any luck, Georgia can snag the SELC auto-bid and give us what we all want: the MCLA playoffs, live-tweeted by the Bulldogs.
Player to watch: Connor Redmond, G (178S, 66.9% SV in 2016)
The Huskies’ football team came out of nowhere to make the playoffs this season. What’s to say their lacrosse team can’t do the same thing? This is a team with Drew Freakin’ Snider as an assistant coach. That has to be worth something.
The Huskies knocked off Oregon and Simon Fraser last season, and gave Oregon State a run for their money. They’re on the rise, but they have to take another step in order to compete with the top teams in the PNCLL. A strong midfield should help Washington compete this year, with a strong returning group from 2016.
The key for the Huskies? Improving in the cage. Their two goalies posted a 40% and 48% save rate, respectively, in 2016.
Player to watch: Sean Maier, M (31G, 9A in 2016)
Sonoma State Seawolves
The Seawolves has been a top-25 team plenty of times in the past, but fell off last season, going just 7-7. However, they played 8 games against teams that went to nationals.
When you look at their last season in that context, 2016 doesn’t look so bad after all! This season, Sonoma State gets a more modest 5 games against teams that made nationals. That two-game swing could be all they need to get back into the thick of the WCLL hunt.
They’ll have to replace their goalie, but their defense should be solid otherwise. If the offense can find more firepower for this season, the Seawolves could shock some teams.
Player to watch: Spencer Castonguay, D (2nd-Team All-Conference in 2016)
The Rebels had a losing record in 2016, and they still finished one place away from the top-25. How do you manage that, you ask? Because all but two loss came to top-25, nationals-bound programs. On top of that, UNLV beat Arizona and San Diego State in 2016.
This is a squad with a lot of talent, but also probably one of the nastiest SOS issues in the country, considering that they play in the SLC and live close enough for routine RMLC matchups. The Rebels might not make national noise, and they almost certainly won’t win their conference.
What they can do is upset some top squads this year. They play an incredibly difficult schedule. The odds that they pick one or two games away from top-10 teams is pretty high. Expect their midfield to cause some havoc in the SLC this year.
Player to watch: Blake Day, M (45G, 14A in 2016)
What do you think?
Can one of these MCLA D1 teams, or more, make a Cinderella run in 2017? Is another program set to make a run and nobody can see it coming?
Let us know in the comments, on Facebook, and on Twitter!