Colorado State Completes Drive for Title No. 5
|Hayden Porter (12) and Tyler Zabor (25) are part of the Colorado State junior class that head coach Alex Smith dubbed as the best to ever come through Fort Collins. They, along with sophomore netminder Jack Regan, held Cal Poly scoreless over a 34:32 span to give the Rams their MCLA-record fifth national championship.|
When Koltin Fatzinger went down with a hamstring injury during the quarterfinal game with UC Santa Barbara, Colorado State's goalie platoon was over. If the Rams were going to win their MCLA-record fifth national championship, it was going to be on the shoulders of sophomore Jack Regan.
After a superb, 11-save performance in CSU's 7-5 victory over Cal Poly in Saturday night's title bout in Greenville, S.C., Regan proved he was up for the challenge.
"They stuck their first two shots and we tried to come back from that mentally by putting it behind us," said Regan of giving Cal Poly (21-2) an early 2-1 lead. "My defense does a great job of giving me the shots I want to see. I give all the credit to them."
"We said all year we weren't splitting because we have two 'twos'; we're splitting because we have two 'ones,"' said Colorado State (17-2) head coach Alex Smith of the goalie platoon. "Jack just stood in there like a man and got it done."
With Regan leading the way, Colorado State not only set the bar for the number of championships – pulling one clear of rival Brigham Young – but the Rams also set the all-time tournament mark for fewest goals allowed with a 3.75 average (15 goals in four games).
CSU also kept Cal Poly off the board for a 34:32 span in the middle of the contest. The Mustangs took their 2-1 lead with 4:49 left in the first quarter and didn't find the net again until 17 seconds left in the third frame on a dodge to the goal by Matt Graupmann. The Rams scored five goals over that same period to take a 6-3 lead into the fourth quarter.
"The guys have been playing together for so long. I know it sounds like a cop-out answer, but they cover each other up," said Smith of his defense. "They know each other's strengths and weaknesses. They were just on-point today and getting sticks on gloves and making saves a little easier. A couple of pipes didn't hurt."
"The goalie just had a day. And we hit four pipes," said Cal Poly head coach Marc Lea. "We got the looks we wanted, they just weren't going in. It's almost as simple as that."
With the two teams combining for five goals in the first quarter, it looked like this game might be a track meet, but the scoring quickly dried up. Austin Fisher connected with 13:28 left in the second quarter off a feed from Alex Devlin for a 4-2 lead, but that was it for the first half.
With the powerful Mustang offense blunted by the CSU backline, Colorado State slowly started building the lead. Stephen Unkrich scored 59 seconds into the third quarter and Devlin connected seven minutes later with a big rip low on CP goalie Bo Dunnahoo-Kirsch to push the edge to 6-2.
After Graupmann broke the dry spell for the Poly late in the third, the Mustangs struck again to trim the lead to 6-4 with 13:28 left in the contest. Unkrich notched his second marker 55 seconds later to give CSU a 7-4 lead.
Zach Jones beat Regan with a diving shot with just under nine minutes remaining, but the Rams defense would shut the door, preserving the 7-5 final.
Graupmann and Scott Heberer both had a goal and an assist for Cal Poly while Nick Czapla and Dunnahoo-Kirsch combined for eight stops in net. Devlin paced the Rams with two goals and an assist while Unkrich added a pair of markers. Sean Smith chipped in with two assists for the Rams.
This is the fifth national title for the Rams, but the first under Smith. The previous four came under the watch of Flip Naumburg, who is currently an assistant for CSU.
"It's a different era of the MCLA right now," said Smith. "We don't get to win because we're us. We have to play great games and have to finish. Last year I thought BYU was the hottest team at the end and we got hot at the right time this year."
It was also a satisfying return to the top after a couple of lean years following Colorado State's last title in 2006.
"We definitely went through some low points, 2008 and '09 specifically," said Smith. "But when this junior class were freshmen, I said it was the best freshmen class we've ever had. They believed that we are a Division I program and act like this is a Division I program. It paid off for them today."