By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
If they want to capture their third national championship in four years, Grand Canyon University Men’s Lacrosse will have to go through one of the toughest schedules in the nation.
Out of the 11 games on the 2018 schedule, seven are against teams ranked in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) Preseason Top 25, while the other four are in the “receiving votes” category. Make no mistake, though – this year’s schedule wasn’t put together by accident.
“A big part of our schedule is locked in every year, but even if it wasn’t, we want a tough schedule every year,” Lopes’ Head Coach Manny Rapkin said. “Our aim is to play teams who are going to challenge us and make us better.”
The season starts February 23 as No. 1 GCU travels to southern California to take on preseason No. 10 Cal Poly. Two days later, the Lopes travel down the coast to do battle with No. 13 California-Santa Barbara, whom the Lopes defeated, 15-9, in the first round of the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference Tournament last season.
The two road games to start the year are part of a seven-game road schedule. It also includes a weekend trip to Colorado March 22 and 24 when GCU will face No. 6 University of Colorado and No. 12 Colorado State, respectively. The number of road games is partly by design – due to conference scheduling and yearly agreements with various opponents. When you include the SLC Tournament in California and MCLA National Championships in Utah, just like the schedule as a whole, the challenge will be all the same.
“It’s definitely a test for all the student-athletes,” Rapkin said. “Managing their academic life and athletic life becomes a little tougher when they’re away from home. All these road games will be a good experience for us.”
A four-game home schedule is highlighted by visits from east coast perennial powers in the University of Georgia and Boston College. Starting with the home opener on March 2 against Georgia, the Lopes will see a style of play that can help prepare them for the rest of the season.
“East coast teams are generally tougher, more hard-nosed teams,” Rapkin said. “Their style is a little more grind and gritty.”
The SLC will once again be a difficult path. The conference may go through central Phoenix once again, but No. 7 Arizona State will be in the mix, especially since last year where the Lopes beat the Sun Devils three times – regular season, SLC Tournament Championship and MCLA National Quarterfinals. San Diego State, University of Arizona and University of Nevada-Las Vegas were all “receiving votes” in the preseason poll.
“If it’s not the top, it’s one of the top conferences in the MCLA,” Lopes’ Assistant Coach Jeff Guy said. “These are big games, and our guys get revved up to play them because they know how much they mean to getting into the postseason.”
Each game this year will say a lot to how far GCU will end up going. GCU is leading the pack now, but the coaches and every player on the roster knows it won’t be easy staying there.
“We’ve always been a dangerous team, and we’re a team that everyone knows needs to get beat in order to get a good spot in the conference playoffs,” Guy said. “Especially when there’s natural rivalries in-state, there’s always a target on your back.”
Go to the GCU Men’s Lacrosse page to see the full 2018 schedule.