As the new and veteran Saint Mary’s Lacrosse players return to campus we reflect on the 2012 season, the most successful of the program’s 23 seasons.
The Saint Mary’s Men’s Lacrosse Team entered the 2012 season with high expectations. Although they were the two-time returning WCLL Division II Champions, the conference’s lack of an Automatic Qualifier has kept them out of the MCLA National Tournament both of those seasons. While a third straight conference championship would be a crowning achievement for the program, the goal for 2012 was clear. Nothing short of a National Tournament appearance would be acceptable.
In order to achieve this, the Gaels not only needed to play a tough schedule, but they needed the signature win that has eluded them over the past few seasons and kept them on the outside looking in. The early season would bring plenty of opportunities for a win against a top ranked team, as the Gaels would face four teams ranked in the Top-25, including two in the Top-10.
Following a 19-1 outing against Cal Lutheran, Saint Mary’s would travel to a packed Titan Stadium on the campus of Cal State Fullerton to face the 14th ranked Titans in a Friday night showdown. The Gaels had faced the Titans twice before, in 2009 and 2011, failing both times to get the victory. Despite the hostile environment, the Gaels prevailed 11-7 and climbed to #13 in the polls. After a trip to Oregon and a gritty win over a tough Southern Oregon team, the Gaels were 4-0 and ready to debut their new home field in the first ever night game played on the Saint Mary’s campus. The home stand would not be an easy one. Coming to town was #6 Westminster, three time MCLA Final Four participant and 2008 MCLA National Champion, #9 Concordia, 2011 SLC Runner-up and winner of two straight against Saint Mary’s, and #22 Western Oregon, four time defending PNCLL champions. Not to mention the annual clash with conference rivals UC Santa Cruz.
Dropping competitive games against Westminster and Concordia put the Gaels at 4-2 on the season and, going into the game against Western Oregon, added to the pressure for both teams looking to keep their At-Large bids alive. The game didn’t disappoint. When Freshmen Hayden Cook scored early in the second overtime, it gave the Gaels a 9-8 victory. After an exciting 8-7 win over the Slugs, the season was half over and the Gaels were 6-2 with wins over two teams in the top-25 and no losses outside of the top-10.
They would go on to win eight more games to close out the regular season sweeping the WCLL and maintaining a perfect road record on the season. Saint Mary’s went into the playoffs as the #1 seed for the second year in a row. In the semifinals the Gaels would face this years surprising success Humboldt State. The Lumberjacks gave the Gaels one of their most competitive league games of the regular season, keeping them to single digit points for just the fifth time all year. They immediately followed this showing with a 7-2 win over San Jose State to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since re-joining the WCLL in 2010. The ‘Jacks came out energized and matched all of the Gaels’ goals to take an even 4-4 tie into halftime. Led by Senior Attackman Christian Skuce (6g, 3a), Saint Mary’s exploded in the third quarter scoring eight goals. The Gaels ran away with the game 14-5.
The next day, the Gaels would take on UC Santa Cruz in the WCLL Championship Game. This would be the fourth straight meeting between the two teams in this game. With the last two contests between the Gaels and the Slugs ending 8-7
in favor of Saint Mary’s, it seemed that this one would come down to the final seconds. The teams traded goals early and the first half ended with the Gaels holding a slim 4-3 lead. Just as they had the day before, the Gaels used a third quarter surge to put the game away. Eleven points in the third and one in the fourth gave the Gaels a 16-5 win and their third straight WCLL Championship. Saint Mary’s was led offensively by a trio of seniors, Christian Skuce (2g,4a), Dan Podesta (4g,1a), and Tom Gourhan (3g,2a) who each recorded five points on the day . Skuce’s performance earned him the honor of being named Tournament MVP. Senior Goalie James Plasencia (14s 5ga) registered 14 saves on the day leading a defense that allowed just 2 goals in the second half.
Having captured their third league title in a row, the Gaels didn’t have to wait long to hear whether or not their hard work during the season, and in seasons past, would finally amount to a National Tournament bid. That evening, the Gaels learned that they would be making the cross-country trip to Greenville, SC as the 14 seed in the MCLA National Tournament. Unfortunately this meant that they would once again have to face the #3 seeded Westminster Griffins, one of the two teams that defeated the Gaels during the season. The game was supposed to be streamed live online, but due to rain the game field was moved at the last minute disappointing West Coast Gael fans who woke for the 7:00 am PST faceoff. On a wet and soggy field, the Gaels made program history and competed in the National Tournamnet for the first time. Saint Mary’s fought through nerves early trailing 1-5 at the end of the first quarter. But, after a 2-1 second quarter, the Griffins held a 6-3 lead going into halftime. Westminster’s tournament experience showed in the second half as they held off a late Saint Mary’s rally to win the game 12-6 and end the Gaels’ season at 16-3.
While the result isn’t quite what the Gaels had hoped for, the bar has now been set for the future. In addition to the first trip to nationals, 2012 was the most successful season to date as many program records fell including most wins in the regular season (14), most wins overall (16), fewest losses in a regular season (2), longest winning streak (12) and longest league winning streak (21 and counting). The team also achieved its second, third, and fourth highest national ranking over the course of the season, 11th, 12th, and 13th respectively. By winning the WCLL Division II regular season title, Saint Mary’s qualified for playoffs for the 14th time advancing to the championship game for the, league record, 9th time. In winning the WCLL Championship over UC Santa Cruz the Gaels tied two records set by the University of San Diego in 2006, most consecutive league championships (3) and most league championships (5). The Gaels were the first WCLL team to represent the conference at nationals since 2008 and the first to earn an At-Large bid since 2006.
As they look forward to 2013 the team must say goodbye to one of the most accomplished senior classes in program history. With a record of 46-11 overall, 24-3 in WCLL play, and 5-2 in the post season over the last four seasons this class’ achievements include three WCLL championships, nine All-WCLL players, four WCLL Offensive/Defensive Player of the Year awards, two WCLL tournament MVP’s, four All-Americans, one National Tournament Appearance, the program’s 2nd and 5th all time points leaders, and the all time saves leader in Saint Mary’s history. The class of 2012: Basillios “Laki” Sotiropulos, Christian Skuce, Dan Podesta, James Plasencia, Joe Rosa, and Tom Gourhan.
2012 has set the standard for what future Saint Mary’s Lacrosse teams will look to match and even exceed. 2013 will prove to be a pivotal season as a relatively young Gael squad looks to win an unprecedented fourth straight WCLL Division II title, sixth overall, in pursuit of the program’s first MCLA National Championship.