Completing its tenth year of existence, the annual Pac-12 Shootout at UCLA is now in the rearview mirror. The tournament provided some very intriguing matchups, with teams from four conferences in attendance.
Some teams were shaking the rust off while others came into the February weekend in high gear. Here’s a look at how the teams from the tourney looked:
Oregon State – 9 vs. Arizona – 6
California – 13 vs. USC – 5
Washington – 10 vs. Utah – 18
Stanford – 11 vs. UCLA – 4
Stanford – 6 vs. Arizona – 7
San Diego State – 17 vs. USC – 13
California – 13 vs. Washington – 4
Oregon State – 14 vs. UCLA – 2
Pac-12 Shootout Breakdown
The 2017 Laxcats are a talented, athletic, deep squad that could really scare some teams in May. That said, it’s been a super disappointing start to the season for these guys. Their schedule was brutal, but, as the #10 team in the first coaches’ poll, Arizona would likely have been picked as the favorite in all but their BYU game so far.
Arizona was very hit or miss in its first game at the Shootout, a 9-6 loss to #12 Oregon State. The Laxcats jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, but then watched the Beavers’ offense get rolling and found themselves down 5-2 at the half. After a third quarter that favored OSU, the Laxcats made a goalie change, electing to go with senior Cody Biggs. The fourth quarter was arguably the strongest quarter that Arizona put up all weekend, but it was not enough to overcome the lead that Oregon State had already built up.
A gritty win over Stanford helped the Laxcats rebound on the season, and gave Arizona their first ranked win, after dropping their first three attempts. Arizona elected to go with Biggs in cage for that game, and I cannot help but wonder if the goalie change helped to get the Laxcats back on track. This team has the talent to be a playoff contender, but has problems to fix on offense. Their schedule won’t get much easier, but the Utah State game could be a good way to right the ship and figure out how to get the offense flowing.
California Golden Bears
Call thirteen the lucky number for the Golden Bears. In their three DI matchups to start the season, Cal has scored thirteen goals each time, and won every game. Up to the Pac-12 Shootout, their biggest win of the season remained their beatdown of UCSB, but they had a strong, 2-0, showing at UCLA.
Cal’s defense appears to be a strength so far this year. In its first game of the weekend, against USC, Cal did not allow a goal in the first half, and only allowed one goal in the third quarter. The Trojans put up an additional four against the backups, but 13-5 is still plenty dominant of a score for the Golden Bears. The Bears followed up with a 13-4 victory over Washington on Sunday, which looked a lot more dominant in person than even the score shows. California was forcing turnovers and skip passes left and right.
Max McKone showed a ton of leadership and poise as the QB of this offense. Behind him, the rest of Cal’s attack line showed efficiency and ability. I was hyped on Cal after their UCSB win. Having now seen them in person, I think this team could seriously contend with Cal Poly for the WCLL title. Heck, they might even be a final four team by season’s end.
Oregon State Beavers
The MCLA Tournament’s twitter page described Oregon State as “just doing its thing. Tourney vet with good players and an underdog mentality.” I can’t really argue with that assessment at this point in the season. The Beavers are not flashy, and so far they have not been super high scoring, but this is a team that seemingly just knows how to get things done.
The win over Arizona showed the pros and cons of this squad, but there were far more pros. This is a team that has a defense built for prime time. Despite Arizona’s quick lead, the Beavers did not panic, and simply played their game until their lead could not be caught. Face-off specialist Janssen Levin won nearly every draw he took, and gave the Beavers much-needed possessions. Their offense was balanced in its scoring, but at times did struggle to possess the ball.
The win over UCLA showed just how dominant the Beavers can be when they outclass an opponent. Oregon State rolled out to an 8-1 lead at halftime and, despite playing backups for the majority of the second half, kept things going to the tune of 14-2 at the final whistle. This squad might lack the superstar player expected of a top ten team, but they show a depth and balance that few teams can compete with. Their defense and face-off game are poised for a deep run in May. If the offense can get a tad more consistent, this team could be terrifying.
Stanford seems to be missing graduated superstar Peter Doyle so far this year. The Cardinal have done a good job at limiting scoring opportunities for their opponents, but their offense just can’t seem to get going. Stanford won their first game of the weekend, bouncing back from a 6-8 loss to UCSB to take UCLA down 11-4. Considering the flow of the game, however, eleven goals could, and perhaps should, have been a lot more. Still, one can hardly complain about a seven-goal victory.
The Cardinal almost had a huge ranked win over Arizona. They kept it close all game long, and, for the beginning of the fourth quarter, this felt like a game Stanford would win. However, a two-minute penalty against Stanford partway through the fourth, which become a two-man-up situation for the Laxcats, turned the tide and gave Arizona a lead that Stanford could not quite find a way to get back. A 7-6 loss to the current #10 team is nothing to be ashamed of, but I think that this is one that Stanford would probably want back, considering how close they were to winning this thing, before the penalties.
Stanford has a good defense, and that’s important in the defense-oriented WCLL. However, they need someone to step up and lead this offense. They’re a level below Cal and Cal Poly right now, and possibly even Sonoma State. They have time to right the ship, but they’ll need to get that done sooner rather than later to make it to nationals.
It was a rough weekend for the hosts. With a shallow roster and two tough matchups, the Bruins failed to get much going. Their only win up to the end of the weekend was a one-point victory over MCLA DII opponent Long Beach State.
The Bruins have some athletes, but they’ll need to find a more efficient way to use them. The loss to Stanford was probably closer than the 11-4 score showed, but UCLA still failed to get a lot going offensively. The loss to Oregon State was a long game for the Bruins, who seemed downtrodden throughout the match. The Bruins are better than their record would suggest, but the shallow roster combined with the very difficult opening stretch to the season has got UCLA down in the dumps. These guys need a win to bounce back and get their spirits up.
The Trojans need to find a solution in goal if they’re going to make an impact in the SLC this season. The offense proved that it can explode when it needs to, putting up thirteen goals on a San Diego State team that held #13 Oregon to single-digits. However, their defense allowed thirteen goals to California and seventeen goals to SDSU. USC rotated between two goalies for both games, but neither seemed to find a groove as the defense often looked jumbled and disorganized.
USC’s attack looked plenty dangerous against SDSU, harassing the Aztec poles and racking up a lot of goals. This is a team that can get hot and bury the rock, and they are capable of winning shootouts down the road. They just need to find the sort of defense that will bend but not break, so that they can come out on top in these shootouts. Putting up double-digit goals on a ranked opponent is promising.
The Utes are probably the most talked-about squad in the entire MCLA right now. In Brian Holman’s debut as coach, they stunned #1 Chapman and took home the win. They only played one game at the Pac-12 Shootout, but the offense proved how dangerous it can be as they piled eighteen goals onto UW and walked away with an 18-10 win. Utah raced out to a 13-3 lead at halftime before allowing their backups playing time in a second half that Washington actually won 7-5, but it was far too late to matter.
This team is good. How good? It’s hard to tell. Chapman is clearly struggling with injuries right now and has actually started 0-2, but the Utes’ win there cannot be overlooked, and neither can their complete control of the game against Washington. The big question for Utah now is conference play.
The RMLC already features three potential title-contenders in BYU, Colorado, and CSU. Can Utah keep this momentum rolling and compete for a league title? Their offense sure made me think they’ll have a fighting chance. Luckily for Utah, assuming they keep winning, they’ve got one of the toughest schedules in the MCLA. If they keep winning, they’ll be in Orange County regardless of who wins the RMLC.
If I had to pick a word to describe the Huskies right now? Streaky. They got behind early to Dominican, before storming back to take the W. They were down huge to Sonoma State, and then went on a 6-0 run to pull within 2. Pac-12 Shootout weekend, they fought back from down 13-3 to make the Utah game look closer on paper than it ever was on turf.
This is a team that 2K would give the spark-plug badge. One goal is often enough to ignite the Huskies and get them rolling, and they generally put their goals up in quick bursts. Their defense is struggling heavily, however, to keep them close enough for their runs to make much impact. Having given up 14.25 goals-per-game through the Pac-12 Shootout, this is a squad that desperately needs something to click on defense. The Huskies have put up double-digit scoring in three of their first four games, but hasn’t held an opponent to lower than eleven goals in a game all year. This offense can be intimidating, and can score fast.
The Huskies will need to find a defensive fix quick. League play began last for UW, starting on the road at another Pac-12 rival, Oregon State. In a strange twist of scheduling, OSU and UW have actually played all four of their games at the same locations so far. The Huskies should have been well-versed on the Beavers but turned the game over in Corvallis, 7-16
That’s a wrap on the Pac-12 Shootout, but I felt that Oregon deserved a shoutout. Its 4-0 start, including a win over Chapman, adds for a great start for new coach Markus McCaine. The Civil War could be a real barn-burner this season, if both the Oregon teams can keep it rolling through April.