by Jac Coyne | MCLA.us
LA CROSSE, Wis. – When does an opponent become a blood rival?
There are a lot of factors. League affiliation is one. Players from the same region is another. Mutal admiration is a third.
Throw in the best championship game in MCLA Division II history and you’ve locked up must-see lacrosse.
That’s what we’re getting on Saturday afternoon in Fargo when top-ranked St. Thomas visits No. 12 North Dakota State for a renewal of the best current rivalry in the division.
This feud rose to prominence in 2018 when these UMLC opponents – whose rosters are nearly entirely comprised of Greater Twin Cities prep players – met for the D-II title in Salt Lake City.
During the previous month leading up to the championship between the Bison and Tommies, St. Thomas had handled NDSU by four goals twice – once in the regular season and then again in the UMLC finals.
What would keep it from being a three-peat?
“In the two prior games, we had two quarters where we didn’t put up a single point, so we felt if we could remedy that we would be in the game and the pressure would be on UST,” said North Dakota State coach Zach Bosh.
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“To be honest, I wasn't really concerned if they would put in some new things because I feel that's what good teams do, and we would just have to adjust,” he added. “It still came back to playing a complete game. In this game, it just happened to go a little longer than most.”
For Jason King – the Tommies’ current head coach who was an assistant back in ’18 under the stewardship of Brian Gross – it was business as usual.
“It was our normal game plan for the championship,” King said. “Trust the systems that got us there. We knew their plan would be creating chaos with the ten-man ride and try to keep it close, which they were successful at all game.”
Keeping it close was mission accomplished for the Bison, as regulation ended with a tie at seven.
Unfortunately for Bosh and NDSU, they were two-men down heading into extra time.
Not an optimum situation.
“I would be lying if I said we were feeling super-good about our chances,” admitted Bosh.
Things were about to get wild.
“The start of overtime jumps out at me as their best player won the faceoff and ran down to score,” said King. “However, Bosh had called timeout before the shot – and I don't blame him – to waive off the goal.”
“I think the stress level went up a little bit more when I called that timeout,” Bosh admitted, as the goal by Defenseman of the Year Evan Schraut was nullified.
“In my mind, I was thinking if this was saved, they are going back the other way six-versus-four and that would be game,” Bosh remembered. “I felt we had the athletes on our team to run out that penalty and get back to even.”
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The contest finally ended on a broken play as the Bison picked up a loose ball at midfield and rolled in for the win.
In that moment, the contest between the two programs was cemented in the MCLA Division II zeitgeist.
There are no leftovers from that game still playing for either team, but that matchup will always resonate when the two meet.
And the similarities will still be visible.
“The only thing different about them is the faces,” said Bosh of this year’s edition of the Tommies. “They are still well-coached and very disciplined. Sometimes I feel like our teams are polar opposites. They are a super-disciplined team and we are total chaos. Maybe that is what makes for a great rivalry.”
We should be so lucky that Saturday’s contest matches all the previous editions.
THE SLC RECKONING
The Southwestern Lacrosse Conference (SLC) made a couple of interesting decisions this spring that will create one of the most compelling league races this spring.
The first was throwing all eight teams into the same pot, eliminating the divisional setup that had been standard for many years.
This format builds in seven quality games for all eight teams, allowing squads to target non-conference opportunities of value. Not a bad thing.
The second change is where the fun starts. In the old format, six teams qualified for the conference tournament. Now the number has been pared to four.
There are other conferences with that same number, but the fact that the SLC has six ranked teams (this week) makes it an awkward number.
Not to say that teams can’t qualify for nationals even if they don’t make their own tournament, but it’s also not a great look. As such, the race for the top four in the SLC will be a spectacular watch, with every game holding huge importance.
GAMES I’M FOLLOWING
No. 4 Clemson at No. 1 Liberty, 7 p.m. – Friday
It won’t take long for Liberty to have its newly-minted No. 1 status put to the test. Clemson ran into a red-hot goalie in the desert, falling the Arizona State, and will now have a great opportunity to find redemption. The Flames cooled off a strong Florida unit on Monday, and will have to reprise that feat again. I’d put the over/under at 23.
No. 10 Grand Valley State at No. 13 Missouri State, 2:30 p.m. – Saturday
We have a seven-game sample size for MoState and just one for Grand Valley, so it’s tough to gauge this one right now. As we know, comparative scores mean nothing, but the two teams do have Dayton in common. The Bears hung a 19-spot on the Flyers in a win while the Lakers managed five in a loss. On the flip side, that was MoState’s sixth game and GVSU’s first. Make of it what you will, but I’m guessing no more than a three-goal spread either way.
No. 16 Colorado State at Texas, 1 p.m. – Sunday
The Rams are off to fine start and keeping themselves in the thick of the postseason discussion, but they can’t get complacent on their Lone Star trip that also includes A&M. The Longhorns have already had near-misses against BC and UCSB, so this is a prime opportunity for a breakthrough win. The Rams will have to be sharp.
No. 22 Northeastern at No. 20 Florida State, 3 p.m. – Sunday
The Huskies are off to a solid start, rolling through Texas and a couple of locals, but Florida State will be a step up. These road trips are hyper-important for the CLC squads with the paucity of non-conference day-trip opportunities. For the Seminoles, a sweep of South Florida and Northeastern would be a nice springboard into their trip to the Rockies.
No. 7 College of Idaho vs. No. 5 Montana & No. 8 Montana State – Sat. & Sun.
The Yotes have certainly proven they can score, but they haven’t seen the level of depth they’ll face against the Grizzlies and Bobcats. If College of Idaho sweeps this weekend, they will be among a handful of teams that can be considered true contenders so far. Regardless of what happens, this will be a useful trip for the Yotes, as this will give them a good Monday-Tuesday at nationals feel.