May 22, 2012

Report Card: Greenville Passes First MCLA Exam

Matt Kleven had three goals in the win over Grand Valley State, giving St. Thomas its MCLA-II record third national championship. In general, the games in Division II were far more compelling than the action in Division I, where Colorado State won its fifth crown.
© Cecil Copeland

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

The 2012 MCLA Championships are in the books, giving us one five-time champion and another three-time king. This was the first time that the MCLA crossed the Mississippi to find a host site, as Greenville, S.C., became the epicenter of the league for the first time. Here's a look at how the site, and the tournament as a whole, graded out.

The Venue

The first two rounds of the tournament were played at the Wenwood Soccer complex with the semifinals and finals hosted by Sirrine Stadium. I arrived after competition finished up at Wenwood, but I received mostly positive feedback. Many of the coaches and staff complimented the grounds crew, who did yeoman's work during the rainstorms on Monday morning to keep the fields playable. And even with one field unplayable, they were able to quickly identify an auxiliary field and get it ready for play.

Sirrine is an old stadium (built in the 1930s) that has had some upgrades (scoreboard, aluminum bench seating in some areas, relatively new press box area), but provides more than enough room for the MCLA's purposes. The setting is far more intimate than Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Denver, but doesn't have the professional feel that Dick's provided.

Two things need to change for next year.

First, there needs to be an additional scoreboard added to the north end of the field. With the only scoreboard available in the south end – and with that partially obscured by the lift used by the television crew – it created an inconvenience, and a mild competitive imbalance for the home team.

Second, and more importantly, the Sirrine Stadium field needs to be in better shape at the start of the semifinals. The faceoff area was chewed up from local high school lacrosse games and replaced by a sod/green sand combo that looked shoddy. The painted over soccer lines and brown patches were also unacceptable, especially with a national broadcast. If Dick's can find a way to line its main stadium for lacrosse only and keep teams off it for the two weeks prior to event, Greenville can do the same.

Overall Grade: B-

The City

My hotel was located on Main Street in Downtown Greenville, which is an exciting spot that provided teams, fans and staff an interesting area during the off-days. Tons of restaurants, shops and activities in a clean, accessible mile-long area, and the city as a whole had plenty of hotel accommodations to sustain the number of athletes who converged on the city.

The city is fine in and of itself, but there is no getting around how the location fits into the greater MCLA picture, however, and it was a topic of conversation for much of the week. While the impact wasn't as great at the Division II level, the closest school of the four semifinalists in D-I was located in Fort Collins, Colo.

The closest one.

There is no question that the MCLA is getting the Greenville facilities on the cheap, but a lot of the western teams are getting stung with massive travel bills, especially due to the lack of a large, nearby airport. The argument can be made that eastern teams have been traveling out to Texas or Denver over the past five years, but there's no getting past the fact that this a western league.

I believe one of the unintended consequences of the MCLA testing out Greenville will be the creation of regional tournaments feeding into a single "final four" location. There are certainly competitive drawbacks to this model (especially for loaded conferences like the RMLC and SLC), but money talks, and the current system may prove to be untenable, especially for the low seeds who have very little chance of getting to Tuesday, never mind Saturday.

Alas, this isn't really Greenville's fault. They put in a bid, and it was accepted, and the city has nearly everything an MCLA team could want at the destination.

With that said, by my estimation, the crowds on hand for the semifinals and finals were on par with what Denver (and Dallas) produced. There was no ground swell of lacrosse junkies or interested parties – it was mostly parents and close friends of the teams playing at that moment, and they left shortly after the final horn. Whether that is a function of the sport in the Southeast or the draw (or lack thereof) of the MCLA is up for debate.

Overall Grade: B+

The Weather

This is a bit of a running joke in the MCLA, as it seems weather always plays an annual part in the tournament. From the lightning storms in Dallas to snow and tornadoes in Denver, the oddest things seem to happen. This year? We got a little bit of rain for the first round, but that's about it.

The weather for the semifinals was warm – somewhere in the low 80s – but nothing oppressive and we avoided all of the thunderstorms that were forecasted heading into the week. And it actually was quite temperate for the finals (which is not unexpected for a 6:30 and 9 p.m. start).

Overall Grade: A-

The Competition

There were no lopsided games like we saw with Simon Fraser and Arizona State in 2010, but, as a group, the final three games of the Division I tournament were a bore. The last occasion when there were two semifinal decided by five goals or more goals was in 2004, and despite the two-goal difference, the final between Cal Poly and Colorado State held very little intrigue – everyone got a sense the game was over late in the second quarter.

I'm not screeching for a shot clock or proclaiming some kind of doomsday scenario. The match-ups just didn't play out well. The CSU-BYU game should have been a classic and wasn't. And Poly did a good job of taking the drama out of the ASU match-up. That's just the way it goes sometimes.

The junior circuit made up for it. The Dayton-St. Thomas game was a wild ride in the semifinals and the Davenport-Grand Valley was solid for three quarters. The final was superb, and was the most exciting finish in the eight-year history of the D-II tournament.

The selection committee looks good after both divisions played out with the top two seeds meeting up in the championship game, but the jury is still on out whether the extra off-day impacted the overall outcome. The two teams that played on Saturday would have been there regardless of the format.

Overall Grade: B

Other Thoughts

- The US Lacrosse Godekeraw MCLA Players of the Year were Ted Ferrin of Brigham Young and Jack Dumsa of Grand Valley State, and there is very little to quibble about with these picks. Both were pretty much slam dunks. Not only was each player atop many of the statistical categories in his respective division, but also led his team to the cusp of a national championship.

- There was a very large video and photo media contingent at the MCLA championship, most of which was internal, but I was somewhat surprised by the paucity of print and online media in attendance. The local Greenville newspaper sent a reporter to cover the MCLA-II championship game, but not the D-I game because of deadline problems with the 9 p.m. start. As effective as social and online media can be these days, the MCLA needs to sell the soap better to the the local and national outlets.

- It was probably difficult to see from the broadcast, and it was barely noticeable from the press box, but there is a huge crown on the Sirrine Stadium field. I'm of average height and I could not see the far sideline standing on the bench side...the MCLA went to a four-color program this year after dabbling in black and white in previous years. It looked good...with that said, Colorado had a dumpster in their team photo...southern accents never get old...with the impending addition of lacrosse at Furman, I wouldn't be surprised if the school tries to have greater visibility at next year's tournament...St. Thomas' average win total of 2.5 goals per game was the smallest in D-II history for a champion...Colorado State's 3.75 GAA was the lowest in tourney history...the number titles by the Tommies (3) and Rams (5) set a record in their respective divisions.


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