The #2 men’s lacrosse team conformed to expectations by going 2-1 this past weekend at the Oosterbaan Field House in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The Gauchos, however, surprised almost everyone with how they faired at the Fifth Annual Michigan Invitational. The tournament began as expected with a convincing 15-8 over Minnesota-Duluth on Friday as Santa Barbara cruised to what amounted to a warm-up win.
Saturday’s game against #5 Michigan would be the polar opposite. The lower-ranked Wolverines were heavy underdogs in the game despite playing in their own facility. In front of a loud home crowd Michigan played tenaciously, frustrating UCSB’s high-powered offense with a zone defense the Gauchos had never seen before. Santa Barbara was out-shot and uncharacteristically lost in the battle for ground balls, but still managed to keep the game close. Michigan pulled away in the third, though, when they sneaked a goal past junior goalie Ryan Brittain, who finished with 14 saves. Despite several fourth quarter Gaucho shots that hit the post, Michigan pulled off the 4-3 upset. It was the Gauchos’ lowest scoring output since playing Division III Whittier College in 2000.
“We didn’t know what to think. Half of us were angry, half of us thought it might have been a good thing,” sophomore midfielder Nick Schooler said. “That loss got us in the right mindset to face Colorado State.”
Head Coach Mike Allan got the Gauchos on the right track by immediately switching things up against the 2003 National Champion Rams. Santa Barbara had last seen CSU when the two played in St. Louis at the USLIA finals. Allan installed UCSB’s version of the zone defense in the hopes of slowing the #1 Rams down.
“They [CSU] watched us play Michigan. They figured we were going to be a cake walk,” Schooler said.
The previous night CSU beat the Wolverines 11-4.
Santa Barbara started the game by jumping out to a 2-0 lead. The Rams answered right back, eventually making the score 3-3 at the end of the first. Throughout the game neither team led by more than two goals, with much of the scoring seesawing back and forth.
“It was intense. There was definitely some bad blood between us and [CSU],” sophomore attacker Lewis Kubitz said. CSU’s frustration only mounted in the face of Allan’s zone defense as the Rams constantly turned over the ball.
Despite that, CSU seemed like they had momentum going into the final quarter after ending the third by taking a 7-6 lead. With two goals by Schooler and senior attacker Hank Caulkins, however, the Gauchos quickly took the lead. Santa Barbara finished off the 4-1 fourth quarter and the Rams with goals by junior midfielders Will Patton and Stefan Isaksen to take a huge 10-8 win over the defending national champions.
Though it wasn’t his statistically best game, Brittain, who finished with eight saves, played solidly in the face of a powerful CSU offense. In a reverse of the game against Michigan, the Gauchos out-shot the Rams and out-hustled them to every ground ball. Patton won 14 of 19 face-offs, with many turning into offensive opportunities.
“Coach Allan told us before the game that we could sulk, or we could put the loss [against Michigan] in our back pockets to motivate us, and we listened to him,” senior midfielder Scott Holmes said.