(Photo: Southland/Lax All Stars)
The Rebels are our first look at the MCLA’s bevy of depth in 2015, and while its finish last year may not pop off of the page, there are several factors and storylines that make UNLV a team to watch in this upcoming season. This is part of an ongoing series during which we will focus on one of the MCLA’s top teams each day, counting down till Christmas to the true “cream of the crop.”
Postseason finish: SLC Tournament Semifinals
Quick season recap: It was a long regular season for the Rebels, who played in 18 regular season games. The .500 finish was impressive when considering that seven of those losses came against teams that were in the 2014 MCLA Tournament. The highlight of the season came with an upset road victory over a tournament-bound Grand Canyon team in the first round of the SLC Tournament. The win knocked GCU out of tournament contention and sent UNLV into the SLC semifinal round, where the Rebels would fall to Chapman, 7-4.
Roster losses: Senior attackman Brandon Edgell, who struck an incredibly balanced 32 goals and 31 assists in 2014, produced in ways that will be hard to replicate. A consistent threat to contribute in any way during any game is not easy to come by. Defensively there isn’t much being lost, but the graduation of both the starting and second-string goalies will hurt. Matt Sathrum (pictured above) had an impressive 12.88 saves per game with a save percentage of .620 over the course of last season. If this defense doesn’t want to see the goals against total on the rise, it’ll have to work on limiting the amount of shots that a freshman goalie will be taking in 2015.
Who to watch for: Blake Day, sophomore midfielder
As a freshman, Day scored 47 total goals, the most of any midfielder in the MCLA. Bigger things can be expected this year, according to head coach Darren Gagnon. “Blake Day is a perfect example of a guy who can run our system, and he’s ready for another big year.” The most significant impact Day made was in the biggest game of UNLV’s season – the SLC Tournament game against GCU, in which he scored six goals and recorded two assists.
They’re dangerous if the roster’s experience from last year’s brutal schedule allows for the team to defensively take care of business against a softer schedule in 2015 while offensively holding up with the powerhouses in the SLC such as Chapman and UC Santa Barbara. All starting defensemen from 2014 should be returning to help aid a freshman goalie in net. Offensively, Day will be asked to shoulder most of the scoring load but there are other contributors – Harrison Krueger (29 goals, 24 assists) and Cameron Stimson (30 goals, 12 assists), most notably – who will look to benefit from the attention that opposing defenses are due to pay Blake.
Achilles’ heel: Depth, or a lack thereof. “We’re just not a very deep team,” Gagnon said. “Running with such a small roster, it’s all about staying healthy. We look at the game ahead.” It’s hard to develop a long-term stride for SLC-winning and championship-winning aspirations without true depth, and sporting a roster half (sometimes a third) the size of opponents can allow for wear and tear to become apparent throughout the year. Transfer sophomore attackman Connor Morgan, who was Western Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association’s Freshman of the Year in 2014 during his first season with Adams State University, was expected to bulk up an attacking front. Instead, he’ll be sidelined for the entire 2015 season due to a torn labrum suffered while lifting weights. It will always be a challenge for this team to hoist banners at the end of the season with a small roster, but expect to see potential in 2015 from an explosive offense and experienced defense.
Trey Lanthier is a lacrosse reporter and editor at WCSN, as well as a contributor for Inside Lacrosse. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @TreyLanthier.