February 18, 2008

Feb. 18, 2008

by Jac Coyne, Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

When he saw the BYU players make their way to the field on Saturday night, Chapman coach Mike Wood was probably wishing he had more than one day of practice to prepare for the Cougars.

"BYU? They're men," said Wood. "You should see the entourage they show up with. They've got 50 guys and they're all guys. Twenty-three, 24, 25-years old and here they come walking in with their wives and two kids. And they've got 50 of them. I said, `Holy crap!' They've got some meat, man, they're all big kids."

Even with the daunting physical presence of BYU and the intimidation factor that comes with being national champion, Wood's Chapman team played a flawless game to post the biggest upset of this young season, a 16-15 victory in front of 2,500 fans in Orange County.

Junior Marcus Wooden, who returns this season after being ineligible last spring, scored six goals and dished out three assists to spark the Panthers attack while sophomore Chris Small controlled the X, winning 26 of 32 face-offs. "His numbers were phenomenal," said Wood of Small. "He dominated."

On the strength of Small's effort, the Panthers jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but BYU responded with four consecutive markers to move in front. Early in the second half it appeared the Cougars might pull away, as they often do, when they edged ahead, 10-7.

"I'm pretty sure we banged a timeout there and I told them it's a game to one," said Wood. "The next goal, that's the one we're worried about. We told them that this was a game where the first team to 15 wins. To win this game, we're probably going to have to use the second page of the scorebook. They're going to make runs so we've got to make runs. That game had a lot of ebb and flow to it."

Wood proved prophetic as Chapman answered by scoring five of the next six goals to take a 12-11 lead early in the final stanza. BYU sophomore Elliot Grow scored his fourth goal of the game with 4:10 remaining in the game to knot the score at 14, but Wooden and Mike Clayton netted goals 18 seconds apart to push the Panthers past the 15-goal mark, securing the victory.

The game was Chapman's fourth of the season and just the second for BYU, but Wood didn't think the Cougars were suffering from any early season jitters.

"I don't think they were rusty. Both teams played good lacrosse; it wasn't sloppy at all," said Wood. "It was great lacrosse at times and at no time was it bad. Every pass was contested. You didn't run three or four yards before someone was checking you, sliding to you, or whacking you."

As Wood expected, the game was physical. It was the kind of game Wood, who is also the defensive line coach for the Chapman football team, could appreciate.

"Keep your head on a swivel [Saturday] night," he laughed. "There were some tattoo shots. They scored a couple of goals but the way my guys slid to them and de-cleated them, I thought, `That one went in but that was a good hit.' It was the same thing down at the other end. Marcus Wooden, the kid who had six, got a couple but he paid for a couple."

This is Wood's first year with Chapman after serving as the women's lacrosse coach at Pomona-Pitzer last year where he posted a 10-2 record. He credits former coach Chad Donnelly for the strength of this year's team and rejects any preconceived notion that it might take him a year or two to regain a hold of the men's game.

"Lacrosse is lacrosse," said Wood, who was an assistant coach at Ithaca College before joining Pomona-Pitzer. "Put the ball in the back of the net and play defense on the other end. You have to emphasize good fundamentals and stick work. If you can't catch it with both hands at full speed and be able to dodge and do all that stuff, keep working on it then maybe you'll play."

Against BYU the Panthers had all the fundamentals working. And instead of altering his game plan to counter the strengths of the defending champs, Wood stuck to his high octane philosophy. He simply preached the importance of playing at BYU's level.

"We said, `Hey, we're going to have to match these guys intensity because they are going to come after us.' They're big, they're good, and they're the best team in the country. What else is there? You better bring you're A-plus game to even play with these guys. If we're throwing the ball away or taking stupid penalties or hurting ourselves, BYU can roll you up."

With its 4-0 start, Chapman is halfway to their entire 2007 win total and in light of the BYU victory the season obviously holds plenty of promise for the Panthers. They now have a 10-day break to savor the memory of fans rushing the field and mobbing the players before they face USC in a Western Collegiate Lacrosse League game. Wood is not tempted to look past that date or speculate what his team's postseason chances are.

And he's not about to gloat about one win, even if it was against the defending national champions.

"We haven't lost and I like my team."

He should.


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