(Photo: Jodi Vosika/ASU Lacrosse)
Tonight, the Sun Devils are looking to make a national statement against the top team in the land, riding off of their latest win over No. 5 Cal Poly. More importantly, they’re looking to get revenge on the team that ruined their perfection a season ago.
The defending national champion Colorado Buffs are in town to face ASU in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic for the first time since the two teams squared off in last season’s MCLA National Championship Game.
For both teams, this game has some serious early-season implications. Colorado enters sitting at No. 1 in the coaches poll, while Arizona State comes in at No. 2. Depending on how the rest of the weekend plays out—Colorado plays UCSB and ASU faces Colorado State—whichever team wins could very well lead the way when the polls are released again next week.
But the real statement to be made with a win like this one isn’t about how the rankings shape-up just a handful of games into the season. Senior midfielder Kyle Denis, one of the team’s four captains, thinks it’s also a good measuring stick.
“It’s a good test for us to see how good we are,” Denis said. “Rankings don’t mean all that much right now, but it’s a good test for us.”
For a Sun Devil team that fell one game short of an undefeated, national championship-winning season to these very same Buffs a year ago, the most that can come out of this game is a fair assessment of how their 2015 team stacks against the nation’s best.
But don’t be fooled, vengeance is just as much on their minds. Senior defenseman Ryan Berns, also a team captain, was on the sideline during the title game, and he thinks that last year’s result will play a factor.
“For all of us returners that were so close, we had the taste in our mouths of that national championship, undefeated season and they took it away from us,” Berns said. “We’re all just gunning for this. We hate these guys. We can’t wait to just dominate these guys and go to war.”
At practice this week, there wasn’t much said about last year’s heartbreaking result. With an overhauled roster and a new coach bringing in a new system, the focus for Arizona State is all in the present.
Those that have spent multiple seasons as a Sun Devil, however, won’t soon be able to forget their crushing defeat. They won’t be able to forget the other that came a year earlier in the 2013 MCLA Final Four, either.
That experience will prove to be beneficial in gearing up the large part of this team that has yet to play in such a high-stakes game, let alone one against the Buffs.
“Hopefully the value (of experience) comes in that we know what it takes to get there,” Berns said. “We know the hard work, the blood, sweat and tears we put in the previous years to get to that spot. With us knowing that, we’re able to really push the kids and ask a lot from them, and we can ask a lot from ourselves.”
An intense Thursday practice rounded out the week of practice and now Arizona State has its focus fully turned to taking on Colorado tonight.
“The younger guys will look at us for preparation and what we have to do physically to get ready,” Denis said. “A lot of guys weren’t expecting to run sprints but we gotta do what we gotta do. When they’re seniors, they’re going to do what we’re doing.”
A win for Arizona State would not only do its part to avenge last season’s loss, but more importantly it would give back to the Sun Devils the title of best team in the country–for now.
Last year’s loss to the Buffs in the championship will obviously be weighing on the minds of those Sun Devils that were there for it, but the real statement to be made with a win in tonight’s game is about the current Arizona State team.
“Last year is last year, we have a whole new team,” Berns said. “We can prove ourselves right now.”