(Photo: Jodi Vosika/ASU Lacrosse)
It’s hard to be perfect.
Many would argue that perfection is unattainable, that it doesn’t really exist. Well, it does in one capacity, at least: on the stat sheet.
If the Arizona State Sun Devils are able to come out on the winning side of their final 60 minutes of lacrosse in 2014 taking place Saturday afternoon at Chapman University against a familiar foe in the Colorado Buffs, they’ll hold a squeaky clean 20-0 mark on the season.
Technically, that’s as perfect as it gets. But let’s throw out the stat sheet, the numbers, the black-and-white definition of things.
If the Sun Devils are victorious on Saturday and clinch their first MCLA National Championship in program history, they’ll be perfect, not just by the zero that will be etched for eternity in this season’s loss column but by every sense of what the word represents.
For the team’s nine seniors, a win would forever erase the sting that, for now at least, still lingers from their consecutive trips to the Final Four the past three seasons that ended in losses.
“We all just want it so bad because we’ve all been there so close so many times,” senior captain Ian Connell said following the Sun Devils’ 10-5 victory over Chapman in their semifinal game on Thursday night.
For head coach Chris Malone, a win in his last game at the helm would provide a storybook ending to what’s already undoubtedly the best coaching job in team history, as his six seasons rank as the six most successful the program has ever seen.
“I’m not even thinking about it,” Malone said, later noting that he’s taking the entire week at the national tournament hour-by-hour. “I’m not thinking that far ahead.”
For the entire team, a win would validate what they’ve known all along: that this is the best group in the country. What a win would mean to the entire group is something that likely none of them could even put into words just yet.
“It would mean more than I can describe,” senior captain Nick Hillier said after Thursday’s semifinal victory. “I’ve never felt it (winning a championship) but I can imagine it would be the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
From day one this season, it’s been about everybody. All year long, this team knew it was the best in the country because of the countless ways it could defend against and attack their opponent.
Ever since they walked into the state of Colorado and defeated the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the MCLA, the Buffs and the two-time defending champion Colorado State Rams, to gain a No. 1 ranking which they’ve yet to relinquish, the Sun Devils had to put their blinders on and remember to stick to what got them to the top. Three straight trips to the Final Four, in which they were sent home empty-handed, were too clear of a reminder that nothing is earned until the last whistle is blown and the hardware is in their hands being hoisted overhead.
So this year became different than the rest; it became about the entire roster, top to bottom.
“We’re here because of everybody,” Malone said, referencing the support that the bench gave to the players on the field as crucial in combating Chapman’s home-field advantage. “If we win this game (on Saturday) it’s because everybody did their job.”
They all did their job on Thursday, that much was clear to anyone who witnessed what was likely the Sun Devils’ best all-around effort on the season that night.
Just as it has been all spring long, that was the message before the game: it’s about every single player on the field that’s donning the maroon and gold.
Malone knew that Chapman would have a message of their own coming into the semifinal game. He figured they would be giving it every ounce of effort they had to keep Arizona State from knocking them off for the third time this season and that it would be the rallying point for the Panthers.
So naturally he turned it into one for his team, too.
“I told them that (Chapman) will have to wait until 2015 (for that),” he said.
He was right.
The Sun Devils came away victorious on that night, even after losing their superstar face-off specialist Zack Handy in the game’s early moments and having to deal with a hostile home crowd for Chapman.
Now, with their sights set on Saturday afternoon’s showdown with Colorado, the same team that sent them packing from last year’s tournament, Arizona State is poised to finally let loose.
This group has kept their focus and composure all season long. Their past failures have taught them enough to know that they must keep their emotions in check until the ultimate prize is in hand.
This situation is nothing new to them, they’re just hoping that the result will be.
“Winning would mean everything. Everything,“ Connell said. “That’s what I’ve been playing lacrosse for these past four years, it’s one last game of my competitive career so it would mean everything to me.”
It’s down to one last game to finish off an undefeated season, to win the program’s first national championship, to erase three years of Final Four trips that ended in agonizing defeat, to go out on top for the nine seniors who became all too familiar with that agony, to complete the storybook ending for the head coach who’s turned the program into a perennial powerhouse.
A win on Saturday accomplishes all of that at once.
Now wouldn’t that be perfect?