Ryder’s MCLA Rundown: Just Getting Started
Chaos. It began the second the final whistle blew on the Utah-Chapman game. For the second year in a row, an unranked team knocked off the defending champions. It was accompanied by #8, #10, and #11 all suffering through multiple losses in the first two weeks.
The MCLA season is rolling, ladies and gents, and it’s time for chaos to reign. With the first regular season coaches’ poll out, here’s your weekly rundown on the MCLA.
Heavy is the Head
Chapman has been hit hard with injuries. Down three starters, including reigning player of the year Dylan Garner, the Panthers are now down 2-3 to start 2017. The shocker came against unranked Utah, but Chapman failed to right the ship, losing at home to Oregon in their next contest, then to Cal on the road.
The challenge for Chapman is to respond. Grand Canyon suffered through a similar start in 2016, but bounced back to snag a top-five seed at nationals and made the semifinals. The season isn’t over in February, but Chapman needs to keep the committee interested, or go all-in on the SLC title.
A 17-7 win in Stanford helped to regain some footing. Now they stare at two fairly easy tasks in LMU and UCLA to get back in the grove. Tasks easier in years past when they were riding the IR.
Rise of the Pac-12
Utah is rolling. Cal is a top ten team. Oregon is back. Oregon State is 6-0. Yes, the Pac-12 does not exist in the MCLA, but I wanted to use it to show how this group of teams is on fire right now. Colorado is #2 in the country, having buried Dominican in their first game. Utah, who began the season unranked, has given Brian Holman quite the start to his MCLA career, and has shot up all the way to #13.
I got to watch Cal firsthand at the Pac-12 Shootout, and they look as good as any team in the country right now. Oregon took down Chapman, and is up to #7 in the coaches’ poll. Oregon State has quietly rolled to a perfect start with two top-25 wins. There are a ton of scary teams out west this year, and the rise of the Pac-12 is going to make the title fights for the PNCLL, RMLC, and WCLL even more competitive this year.
If there’s one big trend in the MCLA so far, it’s that defense is the law of the land right now. The best teams are winning single-digit battles. Ranked matchups are coming down to the wire. More and more we are seeing teams relying on their defense, rather than their offense, to escape. This is most obvious in our new #1, Cal Poly, who is allowing 4.8 goals-per-game. This is a theme in the top ten. Georgia Tech is allowing 5.75. BYU is allowing 4.5. The saying goes that defense wins championships. Based on the top teams in the MCLA so far, that statement is getting harder and harder to argue.
Games of the Week
#1 Cal Poly vs #4 BYU
I’ve been hyped about this game for weeks. To me, this could be a national championship preview. It just got a step bigger: going into it Cal Poly was the #1 team in the country. This is a top-five matchup, and maybe the best game we’ve seen all season. These are two lockdown defenses. As expected, it was a low-scoring affair backed by elite defenses and strong goaltending. Just somehow, the Cougars pulled off the 7-8 victory at the neutral-site in Vegas. And it’s only February!
#2 Colorado vs #5 Grand Canyon
Two top-five matchups in one week?! This is seriously MCLA heaven. Grand Canyon opened their season against the Buffs, so we had no idea what the ‘Lopes had in store for 2017. The coaches are high on them, and so am I. Going into things, Colorado was a win, and a Cal Poly loss, away from the top team in the country. This one, unlike the other top matchup of the week, turned into a shootout. The scales seemed to be in favor of Colorado. Despite the Buffs being on the road, the return of Colin MacIlvennie would be a huge boost. Twenty-five goals were tallied, but it would be the Lopes outworking the Buffs for a 14-11 final.
#5 Grand Canyon vs #6 Colorado State
Props to the ‘Lopes for choosing to start their season by hosting two top-ten teams. Colorado State, like Colorado, had only played Dominican. The Rams had to wait until this game to play a second time, while Grand Canyon gets that CU game to prepare for this top matchup. For that reason, and the fact that I expected GCU to be fired up a big win over Colorado, it was no surprise the the Lopes stole a 7-6 win to close their opening weekend. What a start!
#8 California vs #12 Chapman
These two are trending in two very different directions. Cal is rolling through its early slate, very much looking the part of a final four contender. Chapman is nursing a lot of injuries and looking for a confidence boost to right the ship. A win over the Bears would have certainly got people to talking about Chapman again. Sadly, for the Panthers at least, it didn’t happen here. The Golden Bears flexed on them, buying their fifth straight win with a 12-5 takedown.