The men’s lacrosse team still has a bitter taste in their mouths. After losing to Saint Mary’s College in the last five seconds of the conference championship game last season, the Slugs are now in the midst of conference play and set to face off with their longtime rival on April 13.
“If we win [against Saint Mary’s], our alumni — every player that has ever played in this program — every player that’s ever prospectively played in this program, will know about it,” team captain Kevin Shea said. “It would be huge. It would be our season.”
While the team holds an overall 3–6 record, they are 2–1 in conference play with wins over Cal State Monterey Bay and University of the Pacific. Head coach Michael O’Neill said he scheduled games with strong competition early in the season in order to challenge his team. As a Division II program, the Slugs suffered defeats from Division I teams including UCLA and Santa Clara University.
However, Shea and teammate Randy Silver said their difficult schedule has better prepared the team for conference play, which consists only of Division II teams.
“Our record isn’t indicative of how well we’ve played,” Silver said. “So with the competition coming down [in conference play], we can definitely see and feel a difference [in the level of play].”
The tough losses have also brought the team together, Shea said. He said the team’s best experience this season was their first trip to Nevada where they went 0–2 against Cal State Fullerton and University of Portland. Both losses were within two points, which Shea said “really brought us together as a team.”
“The season has definitely been up and down and we’ve been through hard parts. Hopefully going through adversity helps us out in conference play,” Shea said. “But it’s been a fun season — my first in [Northern California Lacrosse Association], playing with a new coach, a new team, a new set of guys.”
New Coach, New Game
O’Neill became the team’s head coach at the beginning of the season, days before the teams first preseason game against Santa Clara. To prepare for conference play, O’Neill holds multiple practices a day and expects his team to put in the same dedication he is used to seeing with his previous NCAA teams. He decided to coach at UC Santa Cruz to build the men’s lacrosse program.
O’Neill hopes for “the school to get a little more behind [the team]” in order to turn men’s lacrosse into a varsity sport at UCSC in the future. He notes that his team’s strong leadership does come from the boys having to run the program by themselves as a club sport. Team captain David Masaka said with five team captains, camaraderie is a definite team strength. Misaka also leads his team offensively with an average of nearly five points per game.
Silver points out while the transition to a new coach can be difficult, now that the team has worked under O’Neill for a few months they are adapting to his coaching style and philosophies.
“[O’Neill] definitely brings a lot of lacrosse knowledge. He’s a player’s coach. He relates to all of us really well. He likes talking to all of us just one on one. He knows us all very, very well,” Shea said. “And we think the way he works is that he builds personal relationships and it just shows on the field. We all respect him.”
Looking to the Future
Last weekend the Slugs played two conference games and came out with a split record. A tie game with less than three minutes in the fourth quarter left, University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) “got a lucky fast break up top and scored and killed the clock,” Misaka said. After that 9–8 loss, UCSC defeated Pacific 16–5 the next day.
“[Against Pacific] we stuck to our roots,” Misaka said. “Our coach sat us down and talked to us about how we need to be more disciplined and run our sets and our plays that we have been working on in practice and really understand that if we execute what we need to get done on the field we will come away with a win.”
UNR has already defeated Saint Mary’s and lead the Western Collegiate Lacrosse League with an undefeated conference record. Misaka hopes the Slugs will face off against UNR again in the conference playoffs.
UCSC now looks forward to the most anticipated game of the season and are hoping for not only a win but also for a big fan turnout.
“So [with Saint Mary’s] coming to our home turf, we need all the fans we can get to come out and show their support for Slug lacrosse and help us win. We know we are going to be ready but the question is if fans will be ready to help us win. Once we win I want them to storm the field,” Silver said. “Even if we have a losing record, if we beat Saint Mary’s, we’re happy.”
With a new head coach leading the way, the UCSC men’s lacrosse team is ready to get rid of that bitter taste.