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Taking a Look: WCLL 2015 season preview

(Photo: Cal Poly Lacrosse)

The Western Collegiate Lacrosse Conference has produced a cluster of national champions (four from 1998-2005) throughout its history. In recent years, it’s been Cal Poly that’s had the field on lockdown, securing five of the last six WCLL championships. Here’s a look at how the chips might fall in 2015, with an extensive look at the conference as part of our Taking a Look series focusing on each conference in the MCLA.

~WCSN lacrosse editor Trey Lanthier

Looking back at 2014

Last year could be described as a down year for the WCLL, with only Cal Poly making an appearance in the national tournament (and subsequently failing to advance past the first round). This year, the WCLL has high hopes to put more teams in the tournament with a couple of on-the-rise candidates as well as a newcomer in the conference.

There were no ground-shattering developments in the conference during the 2014 season but there were sparks. Cal Poly walked out of the regular season WCLL champs with a perfect 6-0 record in conference play. The Mustangs were the only WCLL team to reach the national tournament, but their trip ended early when they lost a narrow double-overtime game to the UCSB Gauchos in the first round. The Sonoma State Seawolves created a spark for themselves in the middle of their season by beating eventual-MCLA-semifinalist Chapman, 7-5. However, that would stand as the highlight of their season as they lost to the Cal in the first round of the WCLL Tournament. Perhaps the biggest event of 2014 for the conference happened during the offseason, as the Dominican Penguins, formerly an NCAA program, will be the newest addition to the WCLL.

Looking ahead to 2015 (2014 results in parentheses)

Cal Poly (12-6, 6-0 WCLL)

The Mustangs ruled the WCLL last year and look to rule it again this year. In 2014 they went a perfect 6-0 in conference play, won their playoffs and were the only WCLL team to make the national tournament. The Mustangs did lose a few key players as they lost their leading goal scorer Dylan Gonsalves (35 goals in ‘14) and defensive captain Sebastian Zorn.

“We are solid across all positions on defense. We feel like we can cover whatever other teams throw at us,” head coach Marc Lea said.

With a solid team and a lot of potential, Cal Poly looks to return to the national scene and make a big impact.

University of California-Berkeley (10-6, 5-1 WCLL)

The Golden Bears will be under new management in the 2015 season and will have a brand new system to get used to. New head coach Ned Webster came from the NCAA after coaching the Dominican Penguins the past three years.

“It’s a great group of kids who work really hard and care about each other,” Webster said. “There’s a selflessness on the team and nobody is too interested in being the superstar or the go-to guy, they are all about the team being successful.”

The good news for Cal is that there is a lot of talent returning. The only question is whether they can play with a new system to try to make it to the national tournament this year.

Sonoma State University (8-7, 4-2 WCLL)

Last season seemed like a down year for the Seawolves, as they went 4-2 in conference play to finish 8-7 overall. The 2014 season was Panchito Ojeda’s first year as Sonoma State’s head coach (after serving as an assistant at SSU for four seasons) to accompany a new coaching staff. In 2015 the Seawolves will be without several stars from last season, with the departures of starting goalie Alexander Linder, defenseman Anthony Carvutto and WCLL Defensive Player of the Year Blake Olson.

“There is a lot to fill,” Ojeda commented. “We have a next-man-up mentality, our young guys are ready to step in and play and want to contribute right away. Those guys are tough to replace but I think the next set of guys are going to do a great job.”

On the offensive side there were almost no losses, and with reigning WCLL Offensive Player of the Year Brad Bochesa back to lead the team, Sonoma State looks to once again contend for the conference title.

Stanford University (6-8, 3-3 WCLL)

With a 3-3 record in conference play and a 6-8 record overall, the Stanford Cardinal landed right in the middle of the WCLL. With no seniors on last year’s roster Stanford had to win and lose without much leadership.

“Last season was a very interesting year,” head coach Drew Virk said. “I thought it was an under-achieving season given our talent. We had a lot of moments of really good teamwork and really good plays.”

As the Cardinal was searching for leaders they found one in sophomore midfielder Peter Doyle. With a team-leading 44 points and an average 3.39 points per game, Doyle earned a spot as an First Team All-Conference Midfielder. A more experienced roster with set leaders should help Stanford overcome its struggles from last year.

Dominican University (9-3 NCAA, 5-1 WILA)

The Dominican Penguins are the new kids on the block as they transferred from NCAA division two to the MCLA. Unfortunately, the Penguins they will not be eligible for the WCLL playoffsbecause they are in their first and provisional year as an MCLA program. They can still make the national tournament if they’re able to grab an at-large bid. There is no question that the Penguins are talented by coming from the NCAA, but in the offseason Dominican’s head coach Ned Webster left to head up fellow WCLL opponent Cal. Although the team has NCAA-caliber talent, it will be a tough transition as they have to get used to a new league and a new coaching system.

Chico State University (5-9, 2-4 WCLL)

The 2014 season did not end up the way Chico State wanted as they ended their season 5-9 and did not make it to the WCLL playoffs. Despite coming off of a down year, things don’t seem to be looking any better as the Wildcats lost two of their four top point leaders: captain Ryan Seidel (21 points) and attackman Jordan Myers (22 points). While they have had losses offensively, and gave up 162 goals on the year (most in the WCLL), there is potentially light at the end of the tunnel. That light comes in the form of defensive short-stick midfielder Robby Blethen, and even though he spent most of his time excelling on defense, he was also able to rack up seven goals. His efforts earned him Second Team All-WCLL honors. Overall, though, the cons seem to overpower the pros for the Wildcats which could lead to another disappointing season in 2015.

Santa Clara University (5-7, 1-5 WCLL)

To go along with all of the changes in the MCLA, the Broncos added to it by adding a new head coach in Greg Mengis. Santa Clara’s results over the last two years made it apparent that a coaching change could be beneficial, as they only won two total games in conference play and went 10-14 over that span. It was a tough year for freshman goalie Mathew Sarver as his defense did not do much to help him out. Even though Sarver let up 104 total goals, a lot of that goes to his inexperience and the lack of defense. His numbers were impressive with 166 saves and an average of over 15 saves a game. The true upside to the Broncos’ defense comes courtesy of defenseman Christopher Toy, who posted a quality comeback season in 2014 to reattain the All-Conference status from his freshman year. Even with Toy to help a solid goalie and a new coach, the Broncos will have to fight through a tough transitional year.

University of California-Davis (1-8, 0-6 WCLL)

There is no other team in the WCLL that had it harder than the Aggies in 2014. The Aggies did not win a game in conference play and only won once during the regular season. One of their many problems was a lack of offensive production. No player on the roster had over 20 points and the team as a whole on the year was outscored 110 to 51. The struggles worsened over the home stretch as the team lost All-WCLL attackman Chase Hildeburn for the final three games. To make matters worse, starting goalie George Valenzuela graduated and will pass the baton to Satyen Bhatia who didn’t see much of the field last year. The team recently promoted four-year assistant coach (who served as the team’s defensive coordinator) Jeremy Poirier to head coach to help untie their knots. With the offseason losses it looks like another tough year awaits UC Davis.

All-Conference Watch

Attack: Brad Bochesa, Sonoma State

There is no question that Sonoma State’s Brad Bochesa is an offensive machine, and his 2014 stats back it up. Last season Bochesa averaged 4.64 points per game as he tallied 29 goals and 36 assists. With such an outstanding season, Bochesa was named Offensive Player of the Year in the conference as only a sophomore. Being such a young player that is still developing his game, look for Bochesa to be one of the biggest offensive forces in the MCLA.

Midfield: Peter Doyle, Stanford

As only a sophomore last year it is apparent that Stanford midfielder Peter Doyle made his mark. Doyle was named to the MCLA First Team All-America Midfield. With 35 goals, 9 assists Doyle led his team in goals and points and is nowhere near finished. It was a step down from his freshman year, where he posted 50 goals in a 65-point All-American season, during which he was paired up with Cardinal superstar Jack Farr. However, the national recognition for Doyle still exists, as evidenced by his second consecutive All-American nod, and he should be on the rise in 2015.

“His results are going to improve,” Stanford head coach Drew Virk said. “Last year he ran off of pure instinct and athleticism and that got him to where he is. If we can get the team to play within a better offensive system, that’s going to open up a lot of opportunities for him.”

Defenseman: Luke Willon, Cal Poly

The Mustangs, owners of what was arguably the best defense in the MCLA, will look to Luke Willon to lead their defensive unit with captain Sebastian Zorn gone. Willon was put on the WCLL Second All-Conference Defense team last year as a player who doesn’t miss games or miss time on the field. Expect his leadership and defense to earn him a spot on the First Team All-Conference this season, along with potential All-American consideration as well.

Goalie: Sam Stowe, University of California

With the most saves in the WCLL last year (170) Sam Stowe’s performance definitely impacted the Golden Bears’ 2014 season and made them as successful as they were. Stowe finished the season with impressive stats as he averaged 12.14 saves a game and only let in an average of 7.79 goals a game. With the help of new head coach Ned Webster, who was a former NCAA coach, Stowe’s game could improve even further.

During the offseason there were a lot of surprises and changes that impacted many of the teams in the 2015 season. Coaches and star players either stayed or left/graduated, enough to shake up the 2015 standings.

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