It happens every spring here at UCSB. The sun comes out, the weather becomes perfect and the UCSB men’s lacrosse team takes a trip to the national championships.
Fresh off their third consecutive Western Collegiate Lacrosse League title, the #2 Gauchos (17-2 overall, 4-0 in the WCLL), will head to Blaine, Minn., next week to compete against the best teams in the country. UCSB will try to defend the national title it won last year when it defeated Colorado State 8-7 in the final game.
In the first round, Santa Barbara will play #17 Minnesota (17-3 overall), the champions of the Upper Midwest Lacrosse League. The Golden Gophers earned a spot in the tournament after upsetting conference rival Minnesota-Duluth in the UMLL finals.
Minnesota features Eugene Zevelev and Johnny Ericksen, the top two scorers in the UMLL. UCSB will counter with a deep offensive attack and one of the country’s top defenses.
“We lost a lot of our offense from last year and that’s kind of evened out the playing field with other teams, but our defense has really stepped up and carried us this year,” senior goalie Ryan Brittain said.
Brittain finished sixth in the WCLL in save percentage, giving up just 46 goals in 18 games. Santa Barbara will count on the senior duo of Will Patton and Stefan Isaksen on the other side of the ball. Patton is coming off a four-goal performance in the WCLL championship game, including scoring the game-winner from his knees with 1:17 remaining.
Santa Barbara’s side of the bracket became considerably easier when traditional powerhouse Chico State was deemed ineligible. The Rams, one of only two teams to beat UCSB this year, self-reported academic violations after it was discovered that two members of their active roster were not academically eligible.
“It’s unfortunate because we were really looking forward to playing them,” Patton said.
BYU (15-3 overall), the only team to defeat both UCSB and CSU this year, earned the top seed in the tournament after UCSB lost to the Cougars 8-4 earlier this year in Provo, Utah.
Central Collegiate Lacrosse Association champion Michigan (16-2), and WCLL runner-up Sonoma State (17-2 overall, 3-0 WCLL) round out the top four of the bracket. Despite the looming matchups, the Gauchos are only thinking about their first round game.
“We’re focusing on our game against Minnesota right now.” Patton said. “We’re not thinking too far ahead.”
Santa Barbara’s first round game will take place today at 4:30 p.m.