(La)crosse their heart
Mesa men's team believes it can win WILA crown
Colorado Mesa’s men’s lacrosse team may be more hungry than ever this season.
The Mavericks hoped to defend their Western Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association title and possibly sneak in the NCAA tournament last season. Instead, Dominican (Calif.) University swept the Mavericks to win the league title, leaving Mesa disappointed.
“After losing to Dominican twice, especially in overtime here, we’re coming out with a bit of fire in our heart trying to get those wins back,” CMU senior midfielder Kade Robinson said. “We’re trying to win every game, going game by game, ultimately our conference and hopefully the national championship.”
Colorado Mesa took second place in the WILA last season, behind Dominican. The Mavericks finished 7-6 (4-2 WILA). Mesa defeated the Penguins twice in 2012 to win the WILA title.
“I don’t know too many coaches that get upset about getting second place in the conference in their third year of the program,” CMU coach AJ Stevens said. “For us, it was a complete letdown. There are extremely high expectations for every one of our kids. I think that’s a hard thing to build within a team. It’s easy for kids to laugh after losing a game. Our kids are pretty salty.”
Robinson is one of 22 returning players from last year ready to put last season behind them.
“The guys (returning) have brought that anger and are ready to move forward,” senior goalkeeper Brad Brandenburg said. “We have really big goals this year. We have a bunch of new talent that will help us not repeat last year.”
Inside Lacrosse Magazine selected Brandenburg as a preseason All-American.
Stevens added six Division I transfers this season and has eight on the team. One of the new transfers, David Solomon, was once rated the top high school player in America by ESPN and Inside Lacrosse Magazine. The sophomore attacker transferred from Maryland. He is one of two former Under Armour High School All-Americans in a Division II program, Stevens said.
“He felt like it wasn’t a good match for him with the time commitment to be successful academically,” Stevens said. “He was uncomfortable where he was going. He was looking for something with less time commitment.
“He was drawn to coming out West and getting a new start.”
Solomon is projected to be the breakout player of the year in Division II by Lacrosse Magazine.
The Mavericks will have a new offense led by assistant coach Vince Smith.
“(The offense) is completely different than last year,” Robinson said. “Last year was a lot slower paced. We’re pushing the ball in transition now and trying to score more goals. We’ve set targets for how many goals we want to score and how many shots we want to take.”
Smith, who was an assistant for Stevens before, coached a high school program in Virginia the past four years, leading the school to two state titles.
“We’re excited to have him on staff,” Stevens said. “He’s brought a lot to the table with offense. That allows me to focus on defense. He’s been a great addition.
“We’re going to have a more dynamic offense. We’re hoping to score 15 to 20 goals per game.”
Colorado Mesa’s big goal is to make the NCAA Championship field of eight teams.
“That’s the magic question,” Stevens said. “We’ve really made it a point this year to take it one game at a time. It’s a different thought process than we’ve had in the past. We’ve looked at the big picture too much and not enough at each individual game, and we let a couple games slip by us. That falls on me as a coach.”
Men’s lacrosse is divided into the north and south regions. Four teams from each region are selected for the NCAA tourney.
Mesa was scheduled to open its season last weekend at Lindenwood (Mo.) and Rockhurst (Mo.), but the games were canceled because of weather conditions. The Mavericks host Adams State in a WILA game at 5 p.m. Saturday at Walker Field.
“If we win every game, we should make (the NCAA tournament),” Robinson said. “If we drop a game, it’s pretty much good night. That’s why we’re trying to go out and win every game.”