(Photo: Sierra Nevada Lacrosse)
Looking back at 2014
Last season, the WCLL was led by Sierra Nevada, a conference newcomer that wasn’t eligible for postseason play despite an unblemished 7-0 record, with six wins coming from within conference play. Saint Mary’s was the top seed heading into the conference tournament but fell to the hands of a 4-8 San Jose State team right out of the gates. It was the other half of the bracket from which the conference champs would emerge, as the Nevada Wolfpack staved off the Spartans in the WCLL Championship to take the title.
It wasn’t a spectacular year from an individual standpoint, as no player from the conference was able to crack the MCLA’s top 25 points leaders. Two senior attackmen led the way as Sean Chacon of Saint Mary’s and David Misaka from UC Santa Cruz both posted over 60-point totals on the season.
WCLL newcomer San Francisco will be breaking in their program with a seven-game schedule against only in-conference teams. Cal State Monterey Bay has shuttered up its program, after failing to play in a single game last season, and will wave goodbye to the conference. Monterey Bay last competed in its inaugural 2013 season.
Looking ahead to 2015 (2014 results in parentheses)
Sierra Nevada College (7-0, 6-0 WCLL)
The only knock on this team from last year is that it was the program’s first and provisional year in the MCLA and the team was therefore ineligible for postseason play. Otherwise, 2014 was a sparkling example of what the Eagles can and will do when matched up against fellow WCLL teams. The team played in three narrow games, versus UC Santa Cruz (9-7 win), Saint Mary’s (9-7 win), and San Jose State (10-7 win). When Sierra Nevada was pitted up against Nevada, the to-be WCLL champs? 23-2. The Eagles beat the conference’s title team by twenty one goals.
The team hasn’t lost anything to graduation, and the offensive tandem of its starting attack, led by senior Kyle Rockwell (13 goals, 10 assists last season) will be a challenge for any team in the conference to defend. From a defensive standpoint, the team was stifling – in their seven games, the Eagles allowed only a total of 31 goals. That’s an average of less than five goals allowed per game. To do that with no senior leadership, and a pair of freshmen goalies in John McCaull and Robert O’Hare, was quite the feat. As a freshman, defenseman Sergio Orduna was responsible for shutting off the opposing team’s top threat. Expect to be hearing his name in awards conversations at the end of the year.
University of Nevada (10-4, 4-2 WCLL)
It wasn’t a pretty stretch to kick off the the season, as Nevada started 0-3 (with losses to two lower-tier MCLA D1 programs, Chico State and UC Davis), capped off by a narrow one-goal road defeat to Saint Mary’s. From that point on, though, the Wolfpack was unstoppable, blazing an eight-game win streak that lasted two entire months. Only one of those games was closer than a four-goal margin, and it was against UNLV, a Division 1 program. That momentum was able to survive a drubbing against Sierra Nevada, as the Wolfpack turned right around and blasted through the conference tournament with shutdown defense (allowing only ten total goals in the two postseason games played).
Being conference champions was a well-earned honor for this team, but the Eagles are going to pose a serious threat to the chance of Nevada repeating. The Wolfpack will be looking to ride the strong defense through yet another year. With First Team All-WCLL goalie Eddie Conley leading this team in his first year with the program, there’s a strong chance that you can expect to see this defense overcome the graduation of star defenseman Wes Krupp and find itself with chances to shut down any offense in the conference in 2015.
Saint Mary’s College (9-7, 5-1 WCLL)
Winning the regular season crown was a huge accomplishment for the Gaels, who were trying to rebound from 2013 and the team’s first sub-.500 year since 2009. However, the success wasn’t there for Saint Mary’s in the postseason, with an inability to get things going offensively against the San Jose State Spartans. This is a team that will always be in contention, but it’s also starting to become a crowded conference and the Gaels will need to find ways to win their way back to the top in 2015.
The graduation of WCLL superstar attackman Sean Chacon will sting. That’s 141 career points that will no longer be on the field. But attackman Hayden Cook and defensive midfielder Nicolaas Vanderklugt will look to fill that void, as both are entering their senior season in 2015 after posting 76 combined points only a year ago. Defensively, an elite pole is gone – John Rosa, a three-time First Team All-WCLL selection and a three-time All American, wrapped up his career last spring. This will mean that head coach Colin Knightly will need to rely on players stepping into roles across the field. If he can find adequate replacements, the Gaels might not miss a beat in working their way back into contention.
San Jose State University (4-8, 2-4 WCLL)
In a lot of ways, the Spartans looked to be leading a doomed campaign in 2014 before a late stroke landed them in the conference championship game. Despite a strong 3-1 start to the year, a six-game losing streak to end out the regular season is what the year will be remembered most for. A lot of pieces from last year’s puzzle could be gone, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Of San Jose State’s five leaders in points, four of them were listed as seniors last season. However, only one of those players, Dominic Garventa, has officially burned all of his eligibility.
While there’s a lot hinging on the potential return of players (like midfielders Jacob Schekman and Marc LoGrande and attackman James Kiernan), that’s not to say there aren’t younger pieces in place. If head coach Larry Boehm can get this team to keep from slipping into the same downward spiral it suffered last season, this is a team that could win its way into the conversation for the conference title once again.
University of San Francisco (N/A)
There’s always a big question mark around programs that are just breaking onto the scene, and this arrival is no exception. The Dons have raised interest around the MCLA but no one knows exactly what head coach Daniel Vilar will be bringing to the table. With the success that Sierra Nevada experienced last season, the blueprint has been laid out – let’s see if USF can turn that type of inaugural success into a pattern.
University of California – Santa Cruz (4-10, 3-3 WCLL)
From 2007 to 2012, the Banana Slugs finished every regular season either first or second in the WCLL. In recent years, the wheels have come off a bit with a coaching turnover from Jeremy Graves to Michael O’Neill. This could be the year that O’Neill is able to finally right the ship; however, it won’t come easy.
The WCLL’s No. 1 all-time leader in points (217), attackman David Mikasa, has graduated after a prolific career with Santa Cruz. This makes three big departures, as the team also lost First Team All-WCLL defenseman Davis Lehman and midfielder Zach Michel. The players best poised to pounce on the new space that will be left behind are senior attackman David Cowman (28 points last season) and junior midfielder Grant Olsen (fourth on the team in goals as a freshman last year).
Humboldt State University (1-8, 1-5 WCLL)
Last year was not pretty for head coach Tony Silvaggio and his Hogs, as the lone win on the season didn’t come until the season finale, and it was against the conference’s worst team. There is a departure in defensive midfielder Spencer Knutson’s graduation, but the offensive core of attackmen Cole Aylward and Daniel Balok, who combined for 80 points in 2014, will be looking to pick things up right where they left them off.
The thing that will hurt Humboldt State the most in its quest to return to 2013 form (when the team finished 9-2 with a perfect record in conference play) is the lack of offensive depth. Outside of the dynamic duo down low, the offensive players are lackluster. Outside of Aylward and Balok, the most points of any returner last year was four. That’s going to be hard to compensate for during the season, but if the Hogs can pull that off, they might have a chance at flying under the radar during conference play.
University of the Pacific (1-8, 0-6 WCLL)
The Tigers had a rough season in 2014, to say the least. It’s nothing particularly new for UoP, though, as this is a program that has never reached the .500 marker. It will be as tough as ever to hurdle that goal in 2015, but the silver lining is in the team’s youth. Last year there was only one junior on the roster – the rest of the team consisted of freshmen and sophomores.
It’ll take a lot more than 14 points from attackman Keaton Galbraith to effectively flip the script, though. With a lot of goalie changeover through the years, it’s unlikely to see any one player manning that position with success this season. Defensively, this team will need to bring down its conference-high 16.9 goals allowed per game in order to have a chance at upping the win total this spring.
Attack: Hayden Cook, Saint Mary’s
Cook’s goal-scoring capabilities are well-documented, as he’s at 88 career goals through his three years as a Gael. He’s consistently scored around the 40-point mark in each season, but now he will be asked to shoulder more of the offensive load with the graduation of Sean Chacon. If his assist totals start to rise as he gets other teammates involved, there’s a good chance he’ll be getting national attention on top of in-conference love.
Midfielder: Kelby Hawe, Nevada
After posting only 18 points as a sophomore, Hawe had a nice coming-out party in 2014. He finished his junior year with 40 points, fourth in the WCLL. Expect those numbers to be on the uptick with Nevada retaining a lot of its offensive potency. This can only bode well for the still-developing midfielder, who could capitalize on the well-established chemistry on this team to turn this spring into a WCLL-leading campaign.
Defenseman: Sergio Orduna, Sierra Nevada
A big part of the conference’s most shut-down defense, Orduna was effective in shutting down any opponent’s top offensive weapon. The best news? He was only a freshman, meaning that star players throughout the WCLL are going to have to plan accordingly for some time to come. After snagging Second Team All-Conference honors, it’s very likely he works his way into First Team consideration and potentially national talk as well.
Goalie: Eddie Conley, Nevada
Conley stepped onto the scene in a big way in his first year with Nevada, securing a spot on the All-WCLL First Team. His efforts were instrumental in Nevada’s title run, especially when the team was making its biggest midseason statement over UNLV, a game in which he recorded 23 saves. If he keeps this pace up, he’s going to be dynamite for the remainder of his career with the Wolfpack.
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.