(Photo: Katherine Fitzgerald/WCSN)
In the MCLA, the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference South has been the toughest in the years past, and the 2016 season looks no different. WCSN lacrosse reporter, Michael Baron gives us his ranking of the SLC south.
5. University of Nevada-Las Vegas Rebels (1-0)
The Rebels are the newcomers to the SLC South from the SLC North after the University of San Diego made the move to Division II.
After finishing 2015 with a 6-7 overall record, the Rebels have already started 2016 with a bang. Unranked to begin the season, UNLV came away with an 11-10 victory at No. 9 San Diego State back on Feb. 6.
UNLV turns around and heads to Provo, Utah to face No. 8 Brigham Young. The Rebels got two early road tests this season for a team that only played two games outside of Las Vegas in 2015.
The end of the year could also give the Rebels some fits as they travel to Arizona to play ASU and GCU in April.
One Rebel to keep an eye on this season is junior midfielder Blake Day. As a sophomore, Day notched 37 goals and chipped in with 18 assists.
4. San Diego State University Aztecs (1-1)
San Diego State entered 2016 ranked No. 9 in the nation after ending 2015 with an overall record of 16-5.
Last season, the Aztecs secured some notable wins over ranked teams such as Arizona and Brigham Young, but they failed to beat top-ranked teams like Arizona State and Grand Canyon.
Looking at the Aztec’s schedule, some key home and road games jump out.
First, SDSU travels to play Brigham Young in Utah. This could give us a good look at the Aztecs this year and where they are as a program.
Also, two big home games this season will be Colorado and Grand Canyon. The No. 2 and No. 1 ranked teams in the MCLA, respectively, will give the Aztecs all they can handle, but SDSU could pull off a home upset.
Although the Aztecs lost their top scorer, John Wilson, due to seniority, two players to watch for this year are sophomore attackmen Troy Cummings and Kevin Leis.
As a freshman, Cummings was second on the team in scoring, recording 43 goals and adding 21 assists. Leis contributed 26 goals to last year’s offensive effort as well.
3. University of Arizona Wildcats (1-0)
The Wildcats entered 2016 ranked No. 11 in the MCLA after finishing the 2015 season with a 7-5 record.
Looking at Arizona’s schedule, the Laxcats have nine out of 12 games in Tucson this season. This could be of huge benefit to Arizona because last season the Wildcats went undefeated in Tucson.
Arizona goalie Tanner Knego is top-notch. Last season, Knego was a first team All-Conference and a first team All-American as a goaltender. Through three seasons in a Wildcats uniform, Knego has an average save percentage of about 66.17 percent.
The challenge for the Wildcats is to give Knego offensive support. So far, they have, as the Wildcats downed Utah Valley, 10-4 in Tucson back on Feb. 6. That game has importance than people realize because Utah Valley beat No. 1 GCU earlier this year.
Expect the Wildcats to make some noise not only in the Grand Canyon State, but also in the SLC South.
2. Grand Canyon Lopes (0-1)
Grand Canyon entered their 2016 campaign as defending MCLA National Champions and ranked No. 1 in the nation.
GCU had not lost a game since March 6, 2015, when Brigham Young handed the Lopes an 11-15 loss in Phoenix. However, this year might have started as a bit of a surprise to the Lopes faithful. On Feb. 5, Utah Valley stormed into GCU territory and came away with an 11-10 victory in overtime.
“Every one of our opponents [is] approaching this as a championship game,” GCU’s head coach Manny Rapkin said. “It’s an opportunity to knock off last year’s champs.”
Although the opening game to the title defense season went down as an “L” in the books, it is too early to panic at Grand Canyon. This is a dangerous team returning much of its talent from last year.
Senior attackman Dean Fairall, who scored 54 goals and added 37 assists for the Lopes last season, returns looking to finish his career with some stellar numbers. Also, senior attackman Drew Dziadyk recorded 46 goals and notched 33 assists last time around.
In fact, six of GCU’s top eight scorers are back for the 2016 campaign.
“In lacrosse, how many goals you produce and what your offense does is also based on chemistry,” Rapkin said. “While we have lots of points coming back, major factor will be how well this new group interacts and also how well the support players mesh with the goal scorers.”
As for some key games on the Lopes schedule, they get Colorado, Colorado State and Boise State, all three tough teams, at home.
1. Arizona State Sun Devils (0-0)
No. 5 ranked Arizona State begins their 2016 campaign with two back-to-back games against Oregon State and Southern California.
The Sun Devils finished 13-4 last year with a 3-1 record within the division, which secured the No. 2 spot in the division.
ASU will be sporting a new look to the team this year with lots of new faces and a new coach.
Three players to watch out for this season are junior attackman Rhett Rodgers, senior midfielder Finn Wells and sophomore Zac Mathien.
Last season, Rodgers was third on the team in scoring with 29 goals and Wells was right behind him with 25 goals to go along with 12 assists.
During the 2015 campaign, Mathien was mentored by Zack Handy, who was a well-known face-off specialist. Mathien could be in the face-off circle a lot this season.
ASU’s schedule from March 24 to April 3 is going to be difficult. The games are: on the road vs. Colorado and Colorado State, at home vs. Grand Canyon and at home vs. San Diego State.
With a road trip to Colorado, a home showdown with regional rival and defending MCLA National Champion Grand Canyon and a date with SDSU (who ASU barely edged last year 15-14 in California), it may be a tough road for ASU this season.
“I’ve never had a game with them where they haven’t worked hard,” MacRobbie said. “As an assistant head coach, they’ve always busted their butt and done what they can do to win so I would expect that they would be no different.”
The Sun Devils also close out the year against in-state rival, Arizona, which is always a competitive game.
“I always expect that to be a hard fought game,” ASU head coach Todd MacRobbie said. “I would not expect it to be otherwise.”
If you would like to reach Michael you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.