Seven Grand Canyon University men’s lacrosse seniors stood on Prescott Field on Saturday afternoon to be honored before their final home game.
It was a Lopes win that showed their work on that field is not done.
Those seniors will be practicing there in pursuit of conference and national championships over the next four weeks but their regular season was sent out in style Sunday. GCU used a string of 11 unanswered goals to pull away from No. 23 San Diego State for a 20-7 blowout and seventh consecutive victory.
Combined with No. 1 California’s loss to No. 5 Cal Poly on Saturday, No. 2 GCU (10-1) could be poised to enter the postseason with the top Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association ranking for the first time this season.
The Lopes have made a striking case for the billing after Sunday’s win gave them eight victories against current top-25 MCLA teams.
San Diego State played GCU tight and physically early to cut a Lopes lead to 5-3 late in the first quarter but GCU shut out the Aztecs for more than 24 minutes. The Lopes’ 11 unanswered goals blew the game open, starting with a 7-0 second quarter. The Lopes kept control when senior attacker Joe Balestrieri scored 39 seconds into the third quarter on an empty net created by a GCU diversion that fooled the entire Aztecs defense.
“We’re a hard team to cover when you play good defense,” GCU coach Manny Rapkin said. “Our guys were looking to make it happen for everybody. We played really well offensively. When we’re clicking and guys are working for each other, we can score a lot of goals.”
Balestrieri led GCU’s scoring with five goals and three assists, giving him 90 goals for his career. Sophomore attacker Cam Wengreniuk added five goals and two assists.
Nine Lopes players scored goals in the team’s second-highest scoring game of the season to a 24-2 win against Utah State. GCU senior midfielders Lucas de Jong and Austin Ekeroth each contributed two goals and two assists, bringing Ekeroth’s career goal total to 72.
“This field means a lot to us because they made this field partially for us,” de Jong said. “It’s only lined for lacrosse a lot of the time. So it meant a lot to finish with the guys who we love. It was tough coming off the field. I wish I could’ve played the whole game but we have to save ourselves for the playoffs.
“We’re playing our best game, game after game after game. We’re peaking at the right time.”
By the time GCU senior defenseman Braden Sparks added a goal with 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Lopes had complete command with a 16-3 lead.
“We’ve got a lot of talent on our team,” said senior midfielder Cody Olson, who had an assist Sunday. “It’s important if we can come out and kind of punch them in the face a little bit in the beginning and put in a couple goals. A lot of teams can’t keep up with the talent we have.”
Prior to the game, each of the seven seniors was awarded his 2015 national championship game jersey.
The senior group includes Balestrieri, de Jung, Ekeroth, Olson, Sparks, defenseman Nathan Smith and defenseman Brandon Suchand.
“Every senior day is an emotional day since the first one when we graduated one senior,” Rapkin said. “These guys helped elevate the program to the next level. They worked hard and they’re just good guys. It’s not over. We’ll keep pushing them. We want to keep their senior going as long as possible.”
Grand Canyon earned a first-round bye in the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference playoffs for winning the regular-season South Division championship. The Lopes will play the winner of Arizona vs. California-Santa Barbara in an April 28 SLC semifinal game at 4:30 p.m. in Carlsbad, Calif. The SLC championship game will be April 30 at 1:30 p.m. in Carlsbad.