At the U.S. Lacrosse Men’s Division Intercollegiate Associates (MDIA) National Championships, one goal can be the difference between a national title and coming up short. The UCSB men’s lacrosse team proved just that last weekend, advancing to the semifinals on a one-goal victory over Sonoma State before falling to #3 Colorado 6-5 Friday.
“This year, this tournament felt a lot better than the last two where we actually won the national championship, basically because this year I didn’t expect to make it past the first round,” senior midfield Nick Schooler said. “I was happy to reach my expectations and go even farther this year.”
After downing seventh-seeded UC San Diego in the first round of the national championships May 9, the Gauchos (11-7 overall) found themselves matched with #2 Sonoma State in the quarterfinals last Thursday.
Santa Barbara drew first blood with back-to-back goals scored just 17 seconds apart at the start of the first quarter. The Seawolves responded quickly and decisively, however, putting away four unanswered goals to take a 4-2 lead that lasted until midway through the third period.
The Gauchos took the upper hand, getting two goals from Schooler and another from junior attack Nick Stratton to gain a 5-4 advantage. With 4:12 remaining in the game, a Sonoma State goal tied it up at five. Schooler saved the game from overtime by getting a pass in the middle from junior midfield Dustin Benesch and putting the game-winner past the Sonoma goalie with four seconds left.
“There’s nothing like beating our league rival, especially when they disrespected us by throwing tortillas on our field and chanting ‘Where are the Gauchos’ during the [Western Collegiate Lacrosse League] Final Four,” Schooler said.
Advancing to the semifinals, Santa Barbara was matched with third-seeded Colorado, a team the Gauchos had beaten 14-6 at The Pit on March 31.
“We had a day off; we had to prepare ourselves for a team that wanted revenge on us, instead of us out for revenge on them,” Schooler said. “I think we were pretty well prepared for it. It was a good game, it could have gone either way.”
Both teams started off hot offensively, scoring five goals collectively in the first quarter. Three straight goals from UCSB and two goals from the Buffaloes to bookend the quarter gave the Gauchos a 3-2 lead at the end of the first.
The second and third quarters saw a completely different defensive setup for Colorado, throwing a zone defense that held the Gauchos to just one goal through the middle periods of the game.
“They were playing a zone that forced us to shoot from outside,” Benesch said. “Our guys just weren’t hitting those shots and their goalie made some good saves.”
Meanwhile, Colorado’s offense put together three goals over the second and third to take a 5-4 lead into the final quarter. The Buffaloes added an insurance goal that would end up being the game-winner halfway through the fourth. Despite closing the gap to one point with a goal two minutes later, the Gauchos were held scoreless over the final 6:50 to end their reign as MDIA National Champions.
Santa Barbara did not leave Plano, Texas empty-handed, however, with junior defender Doug Abate taking home first-team All-Tournament honors. Abate and senior defender Damon Conklin-Moragne were also named first-team All-Americans this week, while Schooler nabbed second-team honors.
The Gauchos lose just five seniors and are expecting to make another run for a national championship next year.
“I think [the championships were] a good experience,” Benesch said. “We’re only losing five seniors, and all our young guys are getting playing time. We’re returning a team that went to [semifinals] and we’re all pretty hungry for a championship. We know what its like to lose one now, so we’re ready.”