(Photo: UMD Lacrosse)
A consistent threat in the UMLC year in and year out, Minnesota-Duluth made a splash at the 2014 MCLA Tournament when they held eventual-champion Colorado to a narrow 2-goal game in the first round. Is it a sign of things to come for the Bulldogs in 2015? 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: MCLA Tournament First Round
Quick season recap: A season that had the Bulldogs pitted up against tough opponents such as Arizona State, Grand Canyon, Davenport, and Michigan State (all of which were road games, all of which combine for the team’s four losses) paid off once the team got into the thick of conference play. Including the conference tournament, UMD wrapped up the season with five consecutive wins versus conference foes before falling to the Colorado Buffaloes in the MCLA Tournament’s first round. While there were tough match-ups on the schedule, beyond that it was a pile of UMLC and GRLC teams that didn’t make many statements throughout the year. UMD beat the teams it was supposed to beat and lost to the teams it was supposed to lose to.
Roster losses: Two major cogs in a midfielder-driven offense, Justin Vossen and Matt Murphy, have departed, taking with them a combined 62 points in 2014. Not only were they both consistent threats to score, they were also captains as seniors. Vossen’s four-goal game against Minnesota in the UMLC Championship game represented the difference in the 7-3 final. Defensively, the Bulldogs will be missing the contributions of All-UMLC defenseman Kyle Mork, a pole that will be difficult to replace. The team will need to reload quickly before Minnesota and some of the UMLC’s sleeper teams start to gain on the Bulldogs.
Who to watch for: Jared Klapperich, senior goalie
A year after being named an MCLA honorable mention All-American, there is a lot of hype surrounding this senior goalie. Klapperich only allowed double-digit goals on three instances, all of which were versus ranked opponents. It goes beyond just his numbers, though. He was playing through a torn ACL almost all season. “He came to me midway through the season and told me the doctor had recommended surgery,” UMD head coach Sam Litman said. “So I asked him, ‘Does this mean you’re done?’ and he said ‘Absolutely not.’ and kept on playing. He’s a tough kid.” Beyond that, it’s his numbers in postseason action that were eye-opening: in three playoff games last year (two UMLC Tournament games and one MCLA Tournament game) he allowed only 11 combined goals, with a save percentage above .700 and 32 total saves. He held the national champs to only eight goals, which only happened on one other occasion in their 20-game season (to ASU in the regular season). Klapperich has a chance to shine once more, although he’ll have a bit more of an inexperienced defense in front of him this time around. If he replicates his clutch performances from late last season, the Bulldogs will have one nationally-recognized weapon to utilize against even the best teams on their schedule.
They’re dangerous if the experience from last year’s run to the tournament carries through to a team ready to start pulling off some upsets during the sure-to-be-difficult non-conference schedule. Klapperich will need to be the voice and leadership for a defense that will be trying to make its eighth tournament appearance in the last nine years. On the offensive side of things, the Bulldogs should be dangerous in that they have a balance and a system that’s served them well over the years. Another factor that could certainly play to their advantage is a strong presence and depth at a hard-to-fill position, long-stick midfielder. All-American Jeffrey Drommerhausen leads the way at the position, with a chance to make a big impact. “We’ve got almost too much depth at long-stick middie,” Litman said. “It’s going to be a big strength for us.”
Achilles’ heel: The lack of a superstar on offense. The flip side of the balance coin is that there isn’t an absolute go-to during must-score situations on offense. In a schedule against teams that will inevitably bring about close games and situations to have an offensive player create space and opportunities, if not for himself then for the teammates around him. Junior attackman Jacob Heppner will have a chance to do that, with 76 career points under his belt heading into the second half of his career. With that being said, the Bulldogs have generally found success with the system in place. The adjustment from being a midfielder-heavy offense to being one without any true allegiance to either the midfield or the attack could be a point to watch as the season goes on as well.
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.