Good things come in threes, and the UCSB men’s lacrosse team is one step closer to a U.S. Lacrosse Men’s Division Intercollegiate Associates (MDIA) National Championship “three-peat” after its 9-5 win over #7-seed UC San Diego yesterday.
Santa Barbara stayed alive in the national championship tournament held in Plano, Texas, never trailing after taking a 4-3 lead into halftime. The Gauchos (10-6 overall) move on to the quarterfinals, where they will meet #2-seed Sonoma State today.
“We were really fired up for this game,” senior midfielder Nick Schooler said. “We had to get some revenge. Everyone knew we could have beaten them in the earlier games this year, but we just didn’t play well at all. This time we were fired up and finally played well.”
UCSB avenged two prior losses to the Tritons this season, including its last in the Western Collegiate Lacrosse League playoffs.
“It was definitely intense,” junior midfielder Dustin Benesch said. “We’ve played them before, so we both know each other. The game was really aggressive; we know each other’s offenses and defenses. It was like a chess match.”
The Gauchos spread their goals among six players, including four from sophomore midfielder George Granelli. However, the defense was the star of the day, holding UCSD senior All-American attacker Nick Dean to just two assists for the game. Senior defender Damon Conklin-Moragne controlled Dean after he recorded eight points against UCSB in its April 22 loss to the Tritons.
“Damon had an amazing game,” Schooler said. “We had him shutting down Nick Dean. We didn’t want [Dean] touching the ball, and when he did touch it, Damon played great and everyone around him helped out. We were able to knock down Dean’s passes and [junior goalie] Mike Sheridan made some key saves.”
Despite practicing in sweats for the past week, the Gauchos felt the effects of the 98-degree heat at the Russell Creek Athletic Complex, with several players developing cramps.
With the win behind it, Santa Barbara faces off with Sonoma State, this season’s WCLL Champions. The Seawolves boast four All-WCLL players, including sophomore attack Cito Williams, the league’s second leading scorer.
“I think just possessing the ball will be the biggest challenge,” Benesch said. “They have a really good team; they go up and down [the field] a lot. But the best defense is possessing the ball on offense, so that’s what we’ll have to do.”
The teams met once this season with Sonoma State taking an 8-6 win in the mud in Northern California. However, last season the Gauchos took both the WCLL title and the MDIA National Championship with 8-7 wins over the Seawolves.
With just eight teams remaining in the championships, Santa Barbara is optimistic about its chances for a three-peat. First face-off is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. in Plano, Texas.
“We are capable of winning again,” Schooler said. “Every year we have this national tournament and usually you can tell who will make it to the final game, but this year it’s not like that. Any team can take it; there is no team that stands out.”