(Photo: Daniel J. Lohmann/Virginia Tech Lacrosse)
A tough and well-earned victory in the SELC Tournament sent Virginia Tech flying into the tournament with enough momentum to nearly work their way into the semifinals. Can they exceed 2014’s result this 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: MCLA Tournament Second Round
Quick season recap: After a rough 2-2 start due to tough cross-country match-ups with Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara, the Hokies went on a midseason tear, stringing together a nine-game win streak. Loss No. 3 wouldn’t come until the regular season finale, against Liberty, which VT would later avenge in the SELC Tournament’s championship game. Only one of Virginia Tech’s four total losses on the year was decided by more than two goals. Once in the national tournament, the Hokies would pull off one of the biggest upsets of the year with a big win over 3-seed BYU, 11-6. It was the next game that will go down in the history books, though, as Virginia Tech’s second round match-up with UCSB went into an MCLA-record six overtimes before the Gauchos came away with the victory.
Roster losses: The balanced Davis Mayberry, a four-year attackman who had 64 points in 2014 to finish his Hokie career, will be sorely missed. Beyond that, the attack features two returners, but Virginia Tech will be losing two of its top-tier midfielders in Shane Arnold and Nick Fletcher, who combined for 49 points last season. Two defensemen, former MCLA All-American Will Field and All-SELC defenseman Sean Meachem, are gone from the program leaving some holes to be filled there. Long-stick midfielder Josh Tew, an Honorable Mention All-American and All-SELC representative, will leave a hole at LSM that should be filled by either Andrew Lohmann or Thomas Westfall. Last year’s senior goalie Charlie Blakeley would be on this list as a significant loss had it not been for the play of Bryan Cooper down the stretch in the playoffs last season. Cooper won four consecutive games in his first games as the team’s outright starter, tallying some incredible numbers along the way. He didn’t allow double-digits in any of his five postseason games despite three of them coming versus ranked opponents (Liberty, BYU, UCSB).
Who to watch for: Alex Clough, senior attackman
Last season Clough, in his first year at Virginia Tech, compiled a nice balance of 30 goals and 16 assists. This year he will need to do more as the absence of Mayberry will require some additional help from returners on this starting attacking unit. It was a slow start in 2014 but a strong finish, as Clough hit the 3-goal mark only once in his first 13 games as a Hokie. In the final six games, he had three such games. His best performance came when it was most needed, in the SELC title game, where he dropped a season-high five goals on the Flames. If he can rediscover his late-season surge in 2015, there’s a strong chance that he could be one of the production leaders on a Hokies team that can absolutely contend. Also look to fellow attackmen, particularly Joseph Rittenhouse (who scored 38 goals last season) to benefit from Clough’s ability to distribute.
They’re dangerous if last year’s late-season tear wasn’t a fluke. This was a dangerous team that many people wrote off because of the ease of its schedule, as the only notable opponents on its regular season slate (Cal Poly, UCSB, Liberty) were its three losses. However, this team got hot at the right time, and the Hokies blasted through the conference tournament and into the MCLA Tournament with steam. Was this something we can come to expect, or was it an anomaly? Based on the significance of the wins over Liberty and BYU, and the fact that this team was seconds from playing in a semifinal game, it’s definitely likely that this team will be standing out on a national scale in 2015. The aforementioned Bryan Cooper, a La Costa Canyon product, looked like the real deal based on his late season play and if he can anchor this defensive unit through a tough SELC schedule, this team might just break the barrier from last season’s underdog to this season’s favorite. Also, don’t forget, after a six-overtime loss to end the season, the Hokies are going to be playing with a chip on their shoulder. “It really motivated our guys,” head coach Matt Schroeder said. “It motivated them to come back and work hard in the offseason. We were only two seconds away from being a semifinal team. It certainly motivated us to get back to the grind.”
Achilles’ heel: Winning on the road. While the team came up with big-time neutral site performances during the SELC and MCLA postseason play, it struggled to come up with wins in pure road scenarios, as all three of its losses came on the road. Those early-season trips to California can be devastating for teams coming from the east coast, and VT did a quality job of rebounding from those two losses, but if the Hokies want to secure an easier road to a deep tournament run, they’ll need to find a way to win those games no matter when they’re played in the season. Head coach Matt Schroeder chose to line up a tough non-conference schedule this year, including Michigan State, Davenport, Texas, Texas State, and Pittsburgh. If the Hokies can find a way to consistently win on the road, they could end up truly being one of the MCLA’s top dogs.
Trey Lanthier is a lacrosse reporter and editor at WCSN, as well as a contributor for Inside Lacrosse. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter, @TreyLanthier.