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ASU Lacrosse: Arguably the best rivalry in the MCLA is here, as No. 12 Arizona State takes on No. 4 Grand Canyon

(Photo: Jodi Vosika/ASU Lacrosse)

With a 2-3 record and the season winding down, head coach Todd MacRobbie and No. 12 Arizona State look to end their losing streak, which they haven’t had since 2012, when No. 4 Grand Canyon comes to town April 1.

After losing three straight games, two by one goal, the Sun Devils have stepped back to move forward in the right direction. Following a road loss to No. 5 Brigham Young, there has been a noticeable change in the intensity at practice.

“It’s not a new vibe,” MacRobbie said. “It’s that more of them figuring it out.”

As for GCU, the Lopes 5-3 and have been on the rise since dropping a close game to No. 11 Boston College.  They have won three in a row, including a resounding 12-4 victory over BYU.

Coming into its upcoming game, Arizona State’s offense has been led by junior attackman Rhett Rodgers as well as seniors Finn Wells and Adam Beauchamp. The trio has combined to score 16 of the last 21 goals for the Sun Devils.

“We want to attack right from the first faceoff,” Wells said. “We are hoping Zac [Mathien] can own the possession circle and we want to play like a team.”

Grand Canyon also relies on a high-octane offense, led by senior attackman Dean Fairall and junior attackman Joe Balestrerie. The Lopes average more than 13 goals per game and have scored 19 in two of their past three. Additionally, Balestrerie leads the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference in points (45) and is tied for second in goals (30).

With a potential offensive shootout looming, the outcome of this game could come down to the play of Arizona State’s junior goalie Russell Bartle and Grand Canyon’s junior goalie Brandon Suchand.

Bartle, one of the early season question marks after winning the starting job, has been very effective for the Sun Devils. In five games, he has only conceded more than 10 goals once while stopping nearly 69 percent of shots he has faced.

Coming off a season in which he earned Honorable Mention All-American honors, Suchand has shown signs of both dominance and inconsistency in 2016. After a shaky start to the season, Suchand has caught fire during Grand Canyon’s recent win streak, conceding only 14 goals during this span.

Outside of goalie play, all eyes will be on Zac Mathien and Ron Hamwey as the faceoff circle turns into a battlefield. Mathien, a sophomore, learned under three-time First Team All-American Zack Handy and has had great success in his first year as the starter. Mathien has displayed aggressiveness and grit in the faceoff circle, leading to a 42-22 record.

Winning a national title and Second Team All-American honors in his senior year, Hamwey returned to GCU as a graduate student.

Although his win-loss record has been shaky to start the season, Hamwey had a career game against No. 5 BYU winning 12 out of 16 faceoffs, and earning MCLA Division I Commanding Performance of the Week.

This matchup has major implications as possession is crucial to two teams that are offense-heavy

This will be the sixth consecutive season that these two programs have met as GCU holds a 4-3 advantage with the tiebreaker coming in the 2015 SLC Playoffs. With each passing year, the competition has grown fiercer and a rivalry has blossomed.

“It seems like it has become a rivalry in my four years,”captain and senior midfielder Henry Archie said. “My freshman year, [Former Head] Coach [Chris] Malone put a lot of emphasis on a territorial aspect of the rivalry, which is what fostered it. I look forward to playing them every year because it is always going to be a battle.”

This matchup offers many opportunities for both teams. For the Sun Devils, a win would bring them back to .500 on the season, improve their résumé win a top-five win and give them momentum, as GCU is the first of six games they will play in a 15 day span.

For the Lopes, building onto a three game win streak by beating another ranked team will help them continue to climb the MCLA rankings.

The game will be held at the ASU West Campus at 7:00 p.m. MST and will be streamed on cronkitesports.com.

If you have any questions or comments, you can contact Zach Pekale via Twitter @zachpekale or via email at zachpekale@gmail.com

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