(Photo: Jodi Vosika/ASU Lacrosse)
The stage has been set for No. 3 versus No. 1 on Saturday.
That’s when Arizona State and Grand Canyon will duel for an SLC South divisional clash.
ASU has been off since March 16, after taking down Texas 16-2. The long break between games has made the Sun Devils anxious to get back out on the field.
“We’re all excited,” senior midfielder Kyle Denis said. “We can’t wait to go play at their place and give them a great game.”
ASU is currently on a three-game winning streak, but that streak is on the line against the No. 1 team in the MCLA. The Lopes are red-hot at both ends of the field, and ASU head coach Joe Thon will be hard-pressed to shut them down.
“Limiting turnovers, first and foremost,” Thon said. “This team is a team that thrives on odd-man transition, any kind of second chance opportunities that they get. The ball is on the ground, they’re moving it with high speed and accuracy and they’re looking to score any way they get.”
Thon said a focus in practice this week has been up-tempo.
“We want to stay up-tempo. We want to continue to work hard in every drill that we do. We’re going 100 percent speed in every senario,” Thon said. “We’ve been focusing a lot on 2-on-1 ground balls and making sure we’re getting into the hole in transition.”
GCU’s offense has been prolific this season, and they have a lot of firepower up front in junior attackman Dean Fairall.
The biggest question for ASU: How do they slow down Fairall?
“Limit his touches,” Thon said. “He’s a guy who picks his spots really well and he works with the guys around him extremely well.”
Fairall has been on a tear lately, recording 11 goals in his last two games.
“I think if we press out on him and make him work to get the ball, he’s going to be a little bit tired and that’s going to help us out in the long run,” Thon said. “We’re going to force him to work to get the ball and make him really spend a lot of energy doing that.”
Offensively, it’s all about ball control.
“If we have the ball and we are working our offensive sets, I think we’re going to do really well 6-on-6,” Thon said. “We’re hoping that we can play settled, play confident, play patient and wait for them to make a mistake and take advantage of it.”
The implications of this game are tremendous as ASU will only have three more games left on the regular season, all against divisional opponents.
“These last four games of the season are huge,” Thon said. “They’re going to have an impact on the national tournament. They’re going to have an impact obviously on the conference tournament. I’ve been telling the guys it’s win or go home.”
Thon said the Sun Devils need to take it one game at a time.
“Right now, we’re on GCU,” Thon said. “We need to win the GCU game, we need to focus on those guys. We need to come out strong and set the tone as we go into the last four games of conference play.”
On the other side of things, Grand Canyon is currently on a six-game winning streak, including a 2-0 road trip to the state of Colorado. GCU head coach Manny Rapkin has the team prepared to face perhaps the most daunting team the Lopes have faced so far this season.
“Last week, we just got back to basics,” said Rapkin. “We had a week off and no games this (past) weekend. We’re really just getting back to basics and reinforcing all the things that have made us successful so far this season.”
Rapkin wouldn’t commit to any one element of the game as the most crucial.
“I think it’s all important,” Rapkin said. “Obviously, our focus will be all the things that have made us successful so far.”
Is there any pressure being No. 1?
“No, I don’t think so,” Rapkin said. “All that matters is who’s No. 1 at the end. We just need to focus on the next game and then to get us to the finish line.”
When ASU and GCU meet up, there’s always a rivalry. Denis also touched on the rivalry of this upcoming game.
“They’re in the SLC South division. They just joined a few years ago, but since they joined, it’s been a rivalry game,” Denis said. “We’re 30 minutes apart from each other, you’re always going to hate people that play near you.”
Unlike years past, ASU is coming in as the underdog.
“In the years past, we’ve always been the team that has everything to lose,” said Denis. “At this point, we’re the underdogs in this game and people are looking for us to lose.”
No matter what the result, this could very well be the game of the year, and it all starts on Saturday at 2 p.m. Tune in live here.
You can reach Michael Baron by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.