No AQ? No Problem for Sam Houston State
Sam Houston State will be flying without a net this spring.
With the second division of the Lone Star Alliance unable to sponsor enough teams to keep its automatic qualifying status in the MCLA, the three-time defending conference champ will not have the luxury of breezing to another trip to Greenville.
This might not be a bad thing, according to Jim Perouty, the Bearkats third-year head coach.
"The automatic qualifier is nice and it's cushy, but this will put a little edge on our guys," Perouty said. "Hey, you've got to bear down and play hard. There is no sitting back and saying, 'All we have to do is beat St. Edward's this year and we'll go to nationals.' We have to win every game and we have to do it in proper fashion."
Since 2010, Sam Houston has owned LSA-II. They haven't come close to being challenged in a league game and have posted five shutouts in the three-year span. They've won the conference championship game by an average of 14 goals. Unfortunately, that's when the good times have ended.
In each of their three visits to the nationals, the Bearkats have been buried in the first round. It was St. Thomas (22-3) in 2010, Grand Valley State (25-7) in '11 and last year Dayton dropped the hammer (27-8).
"Our conference needs to be strengthened," conceded Perouty, who is also LSA-II president. "The teams that we played at the end of the season made us a weaker team for when we got to the MCLAs. We ran into Dayton, and Charlie Mark runs a tight ship and he has a good team and we were totally outplayed. Every time we touched the ball in our offensive end of the field, we scored. The thing was we never got it."
The discipline needed when playing without an AQ should be helpful if/when the Bearkats return to the MCLAs, but they should also be helped by a tougher overall schedule and solid returning talent.
During the first two tourney runs in '10 and '11, SHSU didn't leave the state of Texas, which predictably led to a pair of No. 16 seeds. Last year, the Bearkats widened their scope, making a trip to Las Vegas to play Westminster (a 15-9 loss), UC Santa Cruz (15-14 win) and Western Washington (11-6 win). Just that quick jaunt on the road paid off in a No. 13 seed.
Sam Houston will build off that spring with a trip to Palm Beach to play four teams, including a pair of ranked foes in SCAD and Elon. In addition, Perouty has massaged the schedule so that he is playing a couple of LSA Division I teams at the end of the season — Baylor and Texas State — so they enter the postseason coming off quality competition.
Helping to tackle this slate will be a team that returns nearly intact. Three-time All-American Michael Mann (70g, 51a) returns on attack along with younger brother Matt (27g, 12a), who plays midfield. Travis Tabb (54g, 36) also returns to bolster the offense, although the Bearkats will be without the services of three-time All-American midfielder Zach Fry, who had his season ended with an injury.
Perouty has a solid recruiting class, which often comes to SHSU for the criminal justice department, which is ranked No. 1 in the country, but the overall numbers will still likely be a little thinner than some of the top programs. Sam Houston had a 20-man roster in '12 and it will be similar this spring.
Perouty will be receiving some help on his end, as well. He was a one-man act in his first season, but now he has a three-man staff. Taylor Brooks, who played for Le Moyne (NCAA-II) last year, steps in as defensive coordinator and joins Colin Tabb. Mark Anderson, who was the former head coach at Texas Tech, will also be helping out this spring.
Perhaps it's his Salisbury degree or the success he had coaching the Towson Gunners and Harford Lacrosse Clubs back in his home state of Maryland, but Perouty is confident in what he and his players can accomplish this year. With the AQ or not, he feels Sam Houston State will reach a new level in 2013.
"I think our kids are going to act positively [to not having the AQ] and I am predicting that you'll see Sam Houston go deep into the MCLA playoffs this year," Perouty said. "I think we're going to be a surprise team."