Monday Notebook: MCLA Division II
Will McMinn has been building high school programs all over the Los Angeles area. A member of the first St. Ignatius prep team in San Francisco before playing his college ball at UC Santa Barbara, McMinn moved to SoCal and was surprised by the lack of youth and high school opportunities. So he started a youth league in Orange County and built, by his count, a dozen prep teams.
Four years ago, he figured he'd give college ball a shot. He heard there was a struggling group of players at Concordia University, a small college located in Irvine, so he decided to apply for the job. Like many of his previous ventures, the Eagles are now on the cusp realizing its potential. No. 9 Concordia convincingly beat both No. 11 St. Mary's and No. 23 Western Oregon to improve to 7-0 and is on track to qualify for the national tournament for the first time.
"We really have some lofty goals," McMinn said. "We call them 'B-hags.' Big, hairy, audacious goals. The boys bought into it. It's a great group of young men and we have very strong leadership from our seniors and our captains. In addition, we have very good players. It's working out well this year."
Since the program started in '09, it has steadily improved. Last year, the Eagles even beat conference heavyweight Cal State-Fullerton in the regular season, only to fall to the Titans in the SLC tournament and barely miss out on a trip to nationals. McMinn believes he's doing it my recruiting players who may not necessarily be the most coveted, but the ones who are the most well-rounded.
"There are a lot of great kids out there who want to play lacrosse in college," McMinn said. "A lot kids want to play with a good school that has a serious program. Even if it's not varsity, it feels serious. And a place where they can enjoy going to school and get a good education and make some good friends. Concordia offers that. I don't find it a hard sell at all. There are plenty of good kids out there. The kids that are overlooked by other coaches at higher profile programs are frankly the kind of all-around good kids that I want, and I've got a whole team full of those guys."
The Eagles have a surprisingly geographically diverse roster. While the bulk of the players who have chosen to attend this school with a 1,400 student population, are from in-state, they have players from Delaware, New York, Utah and Arizona, as well. Concordia's best player, sophomore Dustin Seguin, is from Calgary – one of the three Canadian players on the squad.
Now that he's three years deep in his tenure at Concordia, McMinn sees his team as his best asset on the recruiting trail.
"The biggest thing for me is if you can attract some great kids, the boys on the team become your best recruiting tool," he said. "We like to present the program as you becoming part of a family. The guys who buy into that come here. It's usually a good-hearted young man. In a sport like lacrosse, heart is everything. We have a team full of players who have big hearts."
The Eagles are off to a great start, but they haven't entered the most difficult part of their schedule yet. Over the course of March, Concordia will play No. 12 Grand Canyon, No. 21 Western Washington, No. 2 St. Thomas, No. 15 Northern Colorado and No. 6 Westminster.
"It's kind of a crucible," McMinn said of the upcoming slate. "Steel gets hardened once it has gone through the fire and if our goals are going to be where we want to be, we have to go through a bit of a crucible. That's why we have that schedule. We're kind of testing our mettle against teams that are very good and really well coached. We'll see how we come out of it."
- Concordia may be the biggest surprise of this season so far, but debutantes of last year's MCLA Division II season, No. 10 North Dakota State, opened up their schedule this weekend with a pair of comfortable wins over UMLL foes Carleton (15-2) and Bethel (24-6). While the season is still very young, Bison head coach Zach Bosh is optimistic about what lies ahead.
"We feel we are going to exceed what we were able to accomplish last year," said Bosh. "That's our goal and that's what we are working towards everyday. This group has great drive. Even though we are a younger team, we played a lot of freshmen last season that gained valuable experience in big games. The overall talent level of this team is higher then last season. It just depends if they are able to come together as group, and I think we are well on our way to that."
Graduation losses impacted the defense the most, and that's probably going to be the key unit for Fargo's Finest this spring.
"We have all freshmen that start on close defense right now for us, but we do have a senior goalie, and that helps a lot," Bosh said. "There were a couple of situations were I felt that they really understood the team concept and few that left me shaking my head. Overall though, we have a very athletic group that as the season goes on is only going to get more comfortable in our system and playing together"
The Bison have a week off as they prepare for three-day, three-game gauntlet in St. Louis where they'll face No. 15 Northern Colorado, No. 1 Davenport and No. 22 Kennesaw State starting on March 16.
- I did my mock brackets over in the MCLA Division I notebook, so it's only fair to throw up my early projections over here.
No. 16 Western Washington (PNCLL) vs. No. 1 Davenport (CCLA)
- Elon put up a good fight in its 9-7 loss to No. 5 St. John's...at least Western Oregon now knows it has to win the PNCLL title to go to Greenville...Gonzaga and Montana State continue to impress.