Weekend Watch: Aztecs Awaken
(Photo by Anna Scipione)
by Jac Coyne | MCLA.us
LA CROSSE, Wis. – At some point, you figured the goals would stop.
San Diego State had raced out to a 5-1 lead in the first quarter against preseason No. 17 Arizona State, but surely the Aztecs would run out of steam like they seemingly always do.
The scores just kept on piling up, however. SDSU was up 10-3 at halftime. 14-6 after three. And then the final, 18-9. A complete wipeout of a conference rival.
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Surely this was just a one-off for team that has gone a combined 21-33 in the last four full seasons.
A trip to Northern California the following week resulted in two more wins over Sonoma State and Dominican. And then a ranked UC Santa Barbara team got run over by the Aztecs.
Now San Diego State is 5-0 – its best start since at least 2005, and perhaps its best ever – and ranked No. 12 in the country.
“The program has been through some lean years and the boys recognize that wins are hard to come by,” said SDSU coach Bryan Bome. “Our message to the team has continually been that every game matters, and we have to show up and play our best, week in and week out.”
The win over the Sun Devils was a pivotal moment.
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— 2023 MCLA National Tourney (@MCLA_Tournament) March 13, 2023
“That was definitely a lightbulb moment for us,” said Bome. “We saw our guys doing things that we didn’t know they were capable of doing, which has made it fun to watch them play and evolve.
“This season has felt like the culmination of the last seven years of changing the culture and taking our lumps. It feels great to finally see the players and program achieving the success we have been working towards for many years.”
Outside of the program, attention now turns to the Aztecs ability to make the rigorous SLC tournament and perhaps more in May.
San Diego State hosts a quality Washington program on Saturday before closing the season with five-straight conference opponents. Four of those teams are ranked and the Aztecs will likely need to win three of them to qualify for the four-team league playoff.
“We continue to drive home that nothing is ever given in this league and we have to earn everything each and every day,” Bome said. “This team has experienced too much failure in the past years to take anything for granted or become complacent. The boys are on a mission to play their best lacrosse no matter the opponent or outcome, and to have fun doing it.”
As you’d expect, internally, the Aztecs have one thing on their mind.
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“We only have one game ahead of us, and that’s Washington,” Bome said.
Maintaining focus throughout this season initial success has fallen on the leadership team for SDSU. Bome gives great praise to Evan Dean, Alastair Ong and Brendan Callagy as crucial in keeping the team on the right path.
As far as the approach of Bome and his staff, it’s more of a consultants role.
“Our coaching philosophy is that it’s the players team, and we are just there to help them achieve whatever goals they set,” Bome said. “For this to work, it’s crucial that the team have great leaders that set the tone of practice and games, as well as off the field. These guys have done just that, and we are seeing the results in our games.”
San Diego State’s last, and only, visit to nationals was back in 2015 under legendary coach Charlie Jackson. Eight years later, the Aztecs are in the hunt for a second visit.
There’s still a long way to go with teams fully invested in sidelining SDSU. So it’s just a matter of sticking with what has worked so far.
“As a whole, we have a team of guys that understand their roles and are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed,” Bome said.
“They are really fun to be around and are really enjoying their college lacrosse experience, which is what this is all about.”
Bus Trip Update:
Aggressive game of 20 questions has broken out. Front of the bus is up a 0.5 game #TeamBonding pic.twitter.com/0VM87m5BV0
— UMD Men's Lacrosse (@Duluthlacrosse) March 16, 2023
GAMES I’M FOLLOWING
No. 23 Minn.-Duluth at No. 11 Florida Gulf Coast, 1 p.m. – Friday
The Eagles are one game away from qualifying for the SELC Division I tournament after beating South Florida and Central Florida earlier, never mind handling Division II opponents. Now they get to tangle with the Bulldogs. Duluth drags an 0-4 record into this matchup against FGCU, but beware – UMD has lost their three ranked D-II games by a grand total of five goals.
No. 7 Concordia at No. 19 Grand Canyon, 7 p.m. – Friday
The race for the top four in the SLC is in full swing and this one holds some weight. Concordia drilled UCLA last weekend to get off on the right foot, but the Lopes kind of need this one to stay in the hunt. Expect Jeff Guy’s crew to throw everything they have at the Golden Eagles as a loss puts them at 1-2 in conference.
No. 16 California at No. 25 Cal Poly, 1 p.m. – Saturday
This is a rematch of last year’s WCLL title game in which the Mustangs sent the Bears home for the season with a 12-11 triumph. Cal is probably the best 3-5 team in the country considering the schedule they’ve gone up against while Cal Poly has been roughed up by USC (15-8), Concordia (21-2) and Chapman (19-6). Goaltending will be the difference here.
No. 2 Liberty at No. 8 Brigham Young, 4 p.m. – Saturday
This game got a lot spicier after the Flames edged No. 9 Utah Valley on Thursday night in Orem. I don’t think that it’s too much of a stretch to say that Liberty would assume the top spot in the poll with a win or that BYU would easily hop into the Top 5 if they took down Liberty.
The Cougars won the last meeting in Lynchburg at the Flames’ Midnight Madness game, 12-11, and fans attending this game should expect much of the same in terms of competitiveness.
No. 3 Montana at No. 7 UC San Diego, 12 p.m. – Sunday
Last year’s contest was a classic with the Tritons scoring the final three goals of the game to post an 8-7 victory. Both teams appear to even better this year, setting the stage for a monster in SoCal. I don’t even have a hunch how this one will go.
No. 4 Florida State at No. 14 Georgia, 1 p.m. – Sunday
These two have been on cruise control since some early season success, so we’ll get a much better idea of what these guys have in the tank for the final sprint. The Seminoles had a nice warmup last weekend, dismissing South Florida and Colorado State, but the Bulldogs have been idle for three weeks heading into Friday’s game with Pitt. How much rust does UGA have to shake off?
SLIDES & RIDES
- When the preseason rankings came out, this weekend was setting up to be a monster for Virginia Tech. No. 1 South Carolina and No. 5 Clemson in 24 hours? Yikes. Now with the Gamecocks and Tigers a combined 4-13 and both booted out of the Top 25, this is looking more like a pleasant, spring-break getaway for the Hokies.
In actuality, this weekend may be tougher for Tech than if the two Palmetto State teams were fat and happy. Both opponents are now cornered animals desperately looking for a big win to reboot postseason aspirations, and the top-ranked Hokies are the perfect victim. If Virginia Tech can sweep this weekend, it’ll be more impressive than it looks.
- Budgets and time constraints have always made for some strange scheduling bedfellows in the MCLA, but Wake Forest, Baylor and Auburn getting together for a three-way tryst in East Alabama is one of the oddest. Should be some good action though.
- Georgia Tech commences its two-game run to Peach State dominance by traveling to D-II Kennesaw State for a friendly. UGA follows in two weeks…speaking of friendlies, Grand Valley State heads to D-III Butler on Sunday in a homecoming for Lakers coach Tim Murray, who is a Bulldog alum…Georgia-Florida State is the marquee game of the weekend in Athens, but I’ll be keeping an eye on how Pitt holds up against both.
- Utah State is currently 0-2 against D-I teams and 6-0 in the division. The Aggies will be looking for their first D-I triumph on Friday night in a friendly against BYU. A legitimately tough game for the Cougars, who have to keep their eye on Liberty on Saturday.
- Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate.
- As usual, award nominations due to [email protected] by noon on Monday for both PEARL and Warrior honors.