No. 1 GCU men’s lacrosse team to face Arizona State
By Cooper Nelson
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University’s men’s lacrosse has an opportunity other campus athletic teams don’t — to win a 2015 national championship.
The Lopes (7-1) are ranked No. 1 in the country in the Division I Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) with three games remaining. Lacrosse is considered a non-NCAA varsity program and is not affected by the four-year postseason ban NCAA programs face during the transition to D-I. The MCLA has more than 200 college teams all west of the Mississippi River. The top-ranked Lopes have beaten four MCLA top-25 teams this season and are contenders to bring home GCU’s first lacrosse national championship.
The road to No. 1 has been impressive for the Lopes in the program’s fourth year as an MCLA team. After losing to current No. 2-ranked Brigham Young University in the second game of the season, GCU won six straight, including victories over Colorado State, Texas and Michigan State. The Lopes upset former No. 1 University of Colorado on March 21 at Boulder, Colo., to move into the top spot, and they play third-ranked Arizona State, a rival in the MCLA Southwestern Lacrosse Conference South Division, at 2 p.m. Saturday on Mariposa Turf Field.
Head coach Manny Rapkin said the team is excited about the current ranking, the highest ever for men’s lacrosse. But staying humble and taking the season one game at a time is part of the game plan, he said.
“We don’t talk about (being No. 1),” said Rapkin, who also is GCU’s assistant administrator of club sports. “Obviously the goal of every college athlete is to win a championship, but for right now we’re focusing on the next game, the next practice and our individual responsibilities.”
ASU matchup: by the numbers
GCU’s game against ASU (7-1) should be a challenge. GCU (1-1 all-time versus its in-state rival) beat ASU in a season-ending thriller at home in 2013 to knock the Devils out of the playoffs, but the Lopes lost at ASU last year. The winner of Saturday’s game will be the frontrunner to win the conference, which also includes top-25 ranked teams Arizona (5) and San Diego State (14).
According to Laxpower.com, the divide between GCU and ASU is closer than No. 1 and No. 3. The Lopes outscore opponents by an average of nine goals, while ASU averages six more goals than its opponents. GCU has the ninth most difficult schedule in the country and ASU has the 12th. GCU’s RPI (ranking based on wins, losses and strength of schedule) is 5, ASU’s is 7.
Both teams enter the game with one loss. ASU lost to Colorado by one at home, while GCU beat the Buffaloes by three on the road. The only statistic ASU leads GCU in is quality wins (five for ASU, four for GCU).
Unlike ASU, GCU has some of the top players in the country. Senior attack Carson Barton leads the MCLA in points per game (assists and goals) with 7.6 ppg and junior attack Dean Fairall is second in the MLCA with 7 ppg. Barton is third in the country in points (63) and Fairall is fifth (56). Barton was an All-American and the SLC Offensive Player of the Year in 2013.
GCU’s schedule does not get easier after ASU. The Lopes will finish the season at home versus Arizona on April 11 and against San Diego State on April 18.
It’s always exciting to have the chance to beat ASU, Rapkin said. But this time, GCU is not the underdog.
“We have a lot of talented players on this team, and the guys have done their jobs. That’s what has got us to where we are,” he said. “We’re still out there trying to prove ourselves. We’re just a little ahead of schedule.”
Building on early success
GCU has defied all expectations to take the nation’s top spot.
The Lopes joined MCLA D-II in 2011 after three seasons in NCAA D-II. The team moved to MCLA D-I in 2013 after earning postseason bids in consecutive seasons, including a trip to the second round of the MCLA National Championship in 2012. The team has made the playoffs every season but lost in the first round of the conference playoffs the last two years.
Rapkin took over the program in 2011 after two years as head coach at NCAA D-II Dominican College in Orangetown, N.Y. He credits much of the program’s success to its talented and dedicated coaching staff, including assistant coaches Jeff Guy, GCU’s assistant coach in 2008-09 and head coach in 2011, and Remo Monalbano, a former player. Guy played collegiate lacrosse at Delaware and was an assistant at Princeton in 2012.
Rapkin also credits the team’s six seniors and three graduating juniors for setting the foundation of the program. The seniors are Barton, Kris Holland, Sackett Keesen, Luciano DeDonatis, Tate Linford and Freddie Martori, and the juniors are Matt Friesen, Ron Hamwey and Matt Mountain.
Barton, the team’s captain and leader in nearly every statistical category, missed last season after tearing a knee ligament, but other players stepped up to fill the hole in the lineup. Fairall, DeDonatis and Hamwey were named 2014 Second Team All-Americans.
Friesen has seen the success of the program firsthand.
Friesen, vice president of Associated Students of GCU, played lacrosse during high school in Vancouver, Wash. He transitioned from attack to goalie as a senior to fill a need left by injuries. He turned down offers from Rapkin to play at GCU but joined the team at midseason as a freshman after the injury bug bit GCU’s two goalies.
Friesen credits the team’s success to good recruiting and a hunger to succeed.
“It’s sort of cyclical. We had a lot of talent when I first came in, which is a credit to recruiting, and everyone has matured and gotten better,” said the 20-year-old. “We built momentum and the more success we have, the more talent we get.”
Fans may need a quick lesson on what to expect this Saturday. Take out your pencils and paper. Welcome to Lacrosse 101.
Lacrosse is a mix between basketball (speed and play style), soccer (field and scoring) and football (contact). Games are 10 vs. 10 with three offensive attackers, three midfielders (offense and defense), three defenders and a goalie. Players are allowed full contact, with penalties assessed for fouls.
Lacrosse games often are played on soccer fields but with much smaller goals (about one-fourth the size). Players use their netted sticks to pass and shoot a ball roughly the size of a tennis ball. Games consist of two 30-minute halves, and scores often reach the high teens and 20s.
So now you know about the team and the game going into Saturday’s showdown with ASU, being billed as the “Date with the Devil.” Put your pencils down and your Lopes up and come support GCU in its quest for a national championship.
Contact Cooper Nelson at 602-639-7511 or firstname.lastname@example.org