Aggies win conference, make nationals for the second straight year
After making the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association National Championship tournament for the first time in program history last year, the UC Davis club lacrosse team once again qualified and made the trip to Salt Lake City, Utah to cap off another successful season. The Aggies finished the year 11-5 — one win better than last year — and swept through their conference with a perfect 4-0 record.
As senior club president and fourth-year economics major Martin Birmingham put it, the team benefited from new players, something that the team lacked in the previous year.
“We got a lot of new recruits, from freshman and a couple of transfer students, which really bulked up our numbers — something that was lacking last year when we played bigger teams that had more people,” he said. “We’d run out of gas at the end of games so that was definitely a big improvement for us [coming into the year].”
Losing only three seniors from the previous year, the team kept most of last year’s players. After starting the year with a home win against Western Oregon, the Aggies lost the next two games, one against Stanford and another against Chico State — a team they had defeated comfortably last year.
“I think everybody was pretty down after we lost to Chico. That was a tough loss,” said second-year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major and first team All-Conference defenseman Liam Condon. “We beat them handily last year. I think at that point everybody just realized that we can’t lose like that. The year before we beat them 10-2 and then this year we lost by one. I think that got us back in the mindset that we needed to try a lot harder.”
It seemed to have worked, as the team won its next four games by an average of almost 12 goals. The team had found its stride and began to play with “some more offensive energy,” according to Birmingham.
“We had always been solid on defense,” Birmingham stated. “But this year the offense had a lot more winning drive.”
Leading the drive was third-year midfielder Nicholas Lombardo, who finished with a team-high of 33 goals. Freshman attacker Will Johnson was close behind with 31 goals of his own. As a team, the Aggies had eight different players record double-digit goals on the campaign.
The season hit a rough patch toward the middle, as the team lost a close one to the University of San Diego and another to Montana in late March. With the conference games rapidly approaching, it was time for the Aggies to once again get back on track. As a young team in the middle of another tough stretch, it was crucial to respond positively if the team hoped to earn a spot in the national tournament once again.
Starting with a 15-2 win against UC San Diego in late March, the team was able to do just that heading into its conference matchups. The Aggies went on to sweep all four conference games and both playoff games to win the Western Collegiate Lacrosse League Division II title for the second year in a row, as well as earning an invitation to Salt Lake City, Utah to play at nationals.
The team’s opening draw in the tournament was against the defending national champions, North Dakota State. The Aggies ultimately lost 12-3, ending another fantastic season.
Looking forward to next season, Birmingham is optimistic about the club’s prospects.
“Of course as always, our goal is to go back to the national championships and make it past the first round, which I think we have a good shot at next year as we keep basically the same team but now everyone having some high-level experience.”
In the offseason and especially over the summer, many players participate in camps that attract athletes from all over the country. With a large number of Division I-caliber players participating in these camps, the heightened competition level gives players a lot of exposure going against “really good lacrosse players,” according to Condon. The club officially starts its offseason practices in September, so these summer camps , along with team-coordinated pickup games, provide ample opportunity to avoid getting rusty until then.
As the squad only had one active senior play this year, next year’s team will likely feature many of the same players, but with the added recruiting class — something that the team sees as exciting and crucial in taking that next step.
“I think that’s a huge advantage,” Condon added. “I think most of the team sees that because we’ve gone to nationals two years in a row with an incredibly young team. That means this third year is incredibly exciting. We have three classes that have now had nationals experience and know how to get there. With everybody coming back, everybody playing over the summer, next season is going to be insane.”
After overcoming some financial struggles just a couple of years ago, back to back historic seasons now opens a new era for the program. A solid foundation, youth and constant improvement has the team looking to get back into Division I play in the near future.
“We used to be a Division I club and then had some trouble and moved down to Division II,” Birmingham explained. “So long term we would like to move back and become a Division I club if there’s an opportunity to do so.”
When asked how the club plans to get back, Birmingham stated that it would continue to build upon its solid foundation, as well as focus on recruitment and improving their future schedule to add higher levels of competition.
Two straight seasons ending in Utah has the club’s sights set on something bigger, something that now seems to be more in reach than ever before. The Aggies hope that the success they have accumulated is only the beginning.
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Written by: Omar Navarro — email@example.com