Wildcats Down Grand Canyon

by Jeff Herr

TUCSON, AZ - The Arizona men's lacrosse team -- supported by a tight zone defense, great goal tending and a swarm of seven different shooters -- on Friday night defeated nemesis Grand Canyon University 10-3 on the Lopes own field. This was the first time the Wildcats defeated the Phoenix squad. Ever.

"GCU is a tremendous program who has always gotten the best of us." said Arizona head coach Matt Blamey. "Last year we played them in a tight game, but just couldn't get over the hump. I'm very proud of the effort of our team. No matter what happens down the stretch, it is nice that our seniors get to add this to their legacy."

The Wildcats were ranked #13 and GCU ranked #16 in the league going into the game. Last year the Lopes humbled the Wildcats at home with a 12-9 defeat.

Arizona has been on a roll since their Spring Break road trip where the swept all three games in Los Angeles including an 11-10 victory against then #4 Michigan State.

"We've been working a little bit harder every week. The men definitely accepted the challenge to improve, following the loss to BYU on March 16.  They are all trusting each other. It is showing on the field." added Blamey, now in his second season with Arizona.

The Cats jumped out early with a nice bounce shot by freshman midfielder Mason DePaola, assisted by fellow middie Alec Moen. Arizona did not look back, pumping in three goals in both the first and second quarters. GCU's only goals came in the first half. They were shut out in the second half.

"We struggled on attack with Cam [Wengreniuk] injured," said GCU head coach Manny Rapkin who has amassed an 89-29 record in his nine years with the Lopes. Friday night was a challenge with injuries, early graduation of last year's player of the year and a first-team All-American," Rapkin said. "And we had nine freshman on the field. Arizona did a great job. No doubt about that," Rapkin said, adding "Kudos to Matt and the team."

Arizona showed up for the 7 p.m. start with a solid zone defense that held the Lopes to three goals in 42 shots. It did not hurt that goalie Wyatt Hill again was a wall in the cage with 17 saves for the night.

Faceoff specialist Chase Lynch scooped up six ground balls. Hill had four ground balls on the night, followed by two apiece for midfielders Seamus Hughes and Peyton Boyd, and ground balls from Akiah Cepielik, Exton Bassett, Ben Callaghan, Daniel Rodriguez, James Offerman, Luke Dengler, Quinn Carrigan, and Ryan Carlson. 

For the season, faceoff specialist faceoff man Chase Lynch has 47 ground balls, followed by Bassett with 34, and Callaghan with 24. 

"Perhaps our most valued statistic is the ground balls. 9 out of 10 times, the team that wins the GB battle wins the game." Blamey said.

Many of Friday's ground balls were scooped up by the Arizona defense. The Lopes appeared to be baffled by the zone. Bassett's fluid defensive flow was a key element in shutting down the GCU attack.

The Lopes squeaked in their first goal but quickly found the Arizona offense crashing down. Carrigan ripped a shot and picked off the left corner. Cats up 2-1. 

Following the faceoff, Arizona's Barry Baker disrupted a shot by GCU and quickly moved it down to attack. Another disrupted clear for Arizona brought the ball back to GCU and was quickly converted to tie the game with just about two minutes left in the first quarter. The goal by midfielder Kyle Crews was a sidearm ripper, rising from low to high to punch into the top left corner of the goal. 

Arizona's attempts to clear the ball were thwarted often by the hard-riding Lopes Friday night. And the Arizona squad was often ferocious with their rides as well. As halftime approached Boyd took advantage of a GCU failed clear to push the team into a 3-2 lead. 

Less than a minute into the second quarter, DePaola fed the ball to attackman Luke Liljenstople out on goal-line extended. Liljenstople twisted up his defender with a dodge and drove in to score. 

The Lopes GCU attackman Cameron Gilmore charged toward the Cats' goal on a fast break to rip off a point-blank shot. Arizona's Hill stuffed the shooter, effectively dismantling the GCU offense.  Score now 4--2. GCU swapped in their #2 goalie.

Middie Shane Crownheart wasn't done chasing down points. Pressing hard down field, Crownhart scooped up a ground ball while tight-roping along the sideline. He dumped the ball to Carrigan, who ripped a shot into the GCU goal. Arizona up 5-2.

Arizona was exceptional on man down defense, going 8/9 or 89% on the night. A highlight of their effort was when long-stick Baker knocked the ball down, helping the Cats kill the man-down that was part of the three-minute, non-releasable penalty.

In the third quarter Arizona's defense tightened even more. Even though the Lopes' offense kept firing, the Cats' defense -- including and especially Hill in the goal -- snuffed out the GCU attack and midfield. With two minutes left in the third quarter Arizona notched another goal to lead 7-3.

With GCU shots clanging off pipes or into Hill's crosse, the GCU squad started showing frustration. Coach Rapkin called timeout to settle his attack trailing 9-3 with less than 7 minutes left. 

Arizona did struggle with penalties throughout the game. But the Cats were not to be denied, scoring again with 90 seconds to play to close down the Lopes 10-3. Great night for all aspects of the Arizona effort.

Next up for the Lopes is an ascendant #4 ranked Arizona State squad Friday night. Arizona will face unranked UNLV at home Saturday at 1 pm for senior day.