(Photo: Jodi Vosika/ASU Lacrosse)
A disappointing season that ended without a tournament appearance is only going to fuel the fire for GCU in 2015. With big-name transfers and the return of Carson Barton, this ’Lopes team is ready for action. 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 First Round
Quick season recap: In a top-heavy schedule that featured four consecutive games against eventual tournament teams, Grand Canyon struggled out of the gates to a 2-2 start. The ‘Lopes soon reversed the trend, though, driving an eight-game win streak into the season finale against Arizona State. The streak didn’t feature many tough opponents save for a rough road game against Arizona, but every single game in that stretch was won by a margin of five or more goals. In the season finale, GCU would fall to cross-town rival ASU by four goals. The team was still expected to secure a tournament berth, though, until the start of the SLC Tournament when the ‘Lopes were knocked out by the visiting UNLV Rebels. This would eventually be the final straw in the team’s hopes at securing a spot in the MCLA Tournament, as Boston College’s loss in its own conference tournament pushed the ’Lopes off the bubble and out of the running for a berth.
Roster losses: The most attractive trait in this team is its lack of losses, but there are a few role players no longer with the team who contributed in 2014. Midfielder Harrison Wartes, after a quality 20-point freshman campaign, is no longer with the program. Another freshman midfielder, Dakota Norman (10 points last season) won’t be coming back. The most significant loss is the graduation of Kyle Mason, a crafty midfielder who saw consistent time on the field for GCU throughout last season and totaled 28 goals on his career. Defensively, the team’s primary loss is defenseman Brandon Murphy, who secured 31 ground balls last year as part of the team’s starting defensive core. Overall, though, this Grand Canyon team is losing only role players, not superstars.
Who to watch for: Brandon Suchand, sophomore goalie
As only a freshman, Suchand was named an All-American, a feat not often seen from young goalies. Yes, there’s a deep well of offensive talent on this team to talk about, but assuming that side of the field will be able to take care of business, a lot of the pressure on this team’s success will be riding on the shoulders of Suchand. This team didn’t dazzle in close games last season, with a 1-3 record in games decided by two or less goals. Suchand’s maturation could help complement this defensive unit in turning those results in the favor of the ‘Lopes. His 7.5 GAA wasn’t special, but after hitting a mark of just under 15 saves per game and a save percentage of .665, it’s unlikely that he’s to blame for many of the goals being let in. However, if his progression as a goaltender leads to the strengthening of this defensive output, Suchand could represent the difference in make-or-break games against the MCLA’s contenders.
They’re dangerous if the offensive firepower lives up to its potential. With Denver University transfer junior midfielder Tyler Ekeroth and the potential arrival of yet another NCAA transfer to fill out an already-deep midfield, Grand Canyon will have no problem getting the ball into the sticks of talented players. Senior attackman Carson Barton, who pulled off an 85-point season in 2013 before tearing his ACL in fall ball before last year’s season began, has yet to play with most of the stars on this roster. The pieces are certainly there. The starting attack features junior Dean Fairall, junior Drew Dziadyk, and Barton, who average 64.7 points apiece in their last healthy season. The likely stars of the midfield will be Tyler Ekeroth and his brother, sophomore Austin Ekeroth (who tallied 23 points as a freshman last season). It’s in the unique positions that this team could really catch opponents off guard, though, as defensive middies sophomore Lucas DeJong and senior Kris Holland totaled 40 points last season. Even deeper on the roster the return of the small and crafty midfielder Matt Mountain (who tore his ACL two years ago and struggled to return in 2014) could prove to be important for the team’s depth. “We have depth on offense for the first time in a while,” head coach Manny Rapkin said. This is a stacked offense. Also, let’s not forget there’s an All-American face-off specialist in Ron Hamwey who will keep the gears rolling when this team starts to go on runs. If these players all click once the season starts in February, it will be a challenge for any defense in the country to slow down this level of explosiveness and potential.
Achilles’ heel: Defensive prowess, or a lack thereof. Goalie Brandon Suchand is faced with a lot more heat than he should be encountering, in large part because of the past mediocrity of this defensive unit. With defensemen Tate Linford and Nolan Garman serving as returning captains and starters, there is potential for a turnaround from last year. If this team wants to find itself making a deep tournament run in 2015, though, an average of 9.0 goals allowed per game simply won’t make the cut. The addition of defensive coordinator Jeff Guy, formerly on the Princeton coaching staff, will be instrumental in shifting the defensive mentality. “Jeff Guy is a big addition to our staff,” Rapkin said. “He’s making a big difference.” Senior long-stick midfielder Luciano DeDonatis, an All-American in 2014, and the aforementioned defensive midfielders on this roster will need to contribute on that side of the ball to prevent games from becoming shootouts, especially during the thick of the team’s schedule, which includes match-ups versus explosive offenses in Colorado, ASU, BYU, UC Santa Barbara, Michigan State, and Liberty. If the team is able to hold its own defensively, the offense is certainly capable of turning games against any opponent in the MCLA into a lop-sided affair.
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.