MCLA Lax All Stars Features SMC Gaels Deep SouthTour

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2/21/11- After returning home to the comfortable confines of the hills above the Bay Area, Saint Mary’s College head coach Colin Knightly dropped his thoughts on the Gaels’ recent trip to the Deep South.

It’s not often that an MCLA D2 team travels OOC more than a couple hundred miles.  It’s even less often when an MCLA D2 team travels over two thousand miles.  In fact, you don’t even see many D1 teams travel that far.  Saint Mary’s (WCLL D2) from Moraga, California, took their wagons east recently to take on four teams from the SELC.  While in the South, they took on The Citadel, SCAD, Kennesaw State, and Emory.

Any time discussion about the South comes into this author’s mind, I get lost in daydreams about hotdogs and frosted oranges from The Varsity in downtown Atlanta.

I fought back the drool and hankering for fried foods long enough to ask Gaels’ Head Coach Colin Knightly a few questions about their trip:

What (or who) inspired you and your program to make such a huge trip across the country to Georgia?

“A couple things pushed us to Georgia:  1.  Our spring break in 2011 is late because of Easter; I didn’t expect many teams would want to play before their conference playoffs. 2.) SMC runs on a trimester schedule, so we had the first week of February off to travel.  Narrowing down the destinations involved [we looked for] a major airport, four MCLA D2 teams within four hours of the airport, and at least two teams that boost our strength of schedule.  I picked Atlanta because non-stop flights from San Francisco were plentiful.  The Citadel, SCAD, Kennesaw State, and Emory are all reasonable distances from each other.  Also, my team is made up of mostly California kids, who knows if they would ever venture to the South again.”

If you don’t mind, can you give ballpark cost details of the trip?  Can you go into the logistics of planning such a long trip?

“Logistically, we needed team transport to and from San Francisco, round trip airfare, charter bus for six days, and lodging for five nights. Ballpark was $740 per player.  February is slow season in Charleston, Savannah, and Atlanta.  We got great deals on bus and hotel.  Who knows what it would be if we waited for spring break?”

Did the WCLL’s lack of an AQ bid factor into the decision to schedule these tough games?

100%. I want to show the country that we can play out of our region, also show them we travel well; with the support of our school and alumni.”

How do you feel your opponents in Georgia (and SELC) stack up nationally?  Do you feel the way you stacked up with them helps your team nationally?

“I am very impressed with the teams we played in the SELC.  The top 10 of the SELC seems to be really competitive.  I am very proud of going 2-2 on our trip.  We kept a very talented and deep SCAD team to under 10.  The Gaels were in it with Kennesaw to the very end.  I also think Emory could stir things up amongst the top of the SELC.  We went on a late run in the 4th, but before that it was back and forth.”

Any culture shock or regional issues traveling back east?

“$25 per bag fee on Delta, took us by surprise at 6AM on February 1.  One of those little things that gets overlooked, but drives you insane. Everyone is Georgia was really nice.  Ken Byers from Kennesaw is an awesome host.  I suggest anyone on the west coast look into visiting Kennesaw State.  They have incredible facilities.”

How does this trip prepare your team for the rest of its schedule?

“We played a month’s worth of “weekend games” to start our season (most teams play four games in four weeks).  Playing competitive games early gave us the chance to bond, and learn about our team on the field.  We graduated two attackman, and one first line midfielder in 2010.  This trip gave us a quick look at how my freshman and transfers can step in.”

How does the trip mature your team/program in the long term?

“I think we are playing at a higher level now, than at this point in the previous two seasons I’ve been at SMC.  The trip to Georgia is fueling our motivation.”

The trip for the Gaels was huge and should set the example for all MCLA teams, especially D2, on how to schedule meaningful OOC trips.  I, for one, hope that these Eastern teams will repay the favor and make return trips out West.  (St. John’s is coming West later in March after Western Washington made the trip to Minnesota in 2010.)

If you are worried about justifying the cost, just look at how the selection committees picked teams for the MCLA National Championships last May.  They rewarded the teams that made the trips and scheduled tough.  It would not surprise me one bit if Saint Mary’s gets a big bump in consideration based on their tough scheduling.

Saint Mary’s is 5-2 on the young 2011 season.  They have crucial OOC matchups remaining with Southern Oregon, Cal State Fullerton, and Concordia, and they just beat the PNCLL’s Gonzaga 12-8.  Perhaps most importantly, they have their Super Bowl against rival UC Santa Cruz on the road on April 2nd.  The winner of that game will have the best case for an At-Large bid from the WCLL, which lacks the AQ bid since the conference does not have the minimum amount of teams eligible.

The path to Denver for Saint Mary’s is in their own hands now: win and they’re in.

About the Author: Patton is a Portland, Oregon, based laxer and coach who believes the MCLA is the best thing going. After a long day of dealing with the hipsters and hippies of the Great Northwest, he enjoys sounding like he knows what he's talking about. Feel free to let him know he doesn't.

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