Lopes use fast start to nab season’s first win in battle of nationally ranked squads
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
With a goalie making his first start, an experienced front line, and the motivation to avoid an 0-2 start, the Grand Canyon University Men’s Lacrosse team led from start to finish in a 15-13 victory over No. 14 University of California-Santa Barbara Saturday afternoon at Prescott Field on the GCU campus. The win evened the Lopes’ overall record at 1-1 in the first of back-to-back home games this weekend for GCU.
The 11th-ranked Lopes had had three full weeks to get over the sting of a season-opening 13-10 loss to Santa Clara University, and showed from the outset Saturday that they’d learned from the previous match’s mistakes. The Lopes controlled the first-quarter action from the initial face-off, peppering the UCSB defense with multiple shots until GCU senior attacker Cody Clark fired a shot through three defenders just four minutes in to give the Lopes a 1-0 lead. The healthy crowd of Lopes’ fans didn’t wait long for more offense as fellow senior Ryan McDonald found a seam past Gauchos’ goalie Peter Brydon less than a minute later to extend the lead.
“We talked about getting off to a fast start all week,” said Lopes’ Head Coach Manny Rapkin. “Getting out to a good start, staying on top, and staying focused. The good teams know how to play with a lead. A big part of that success was J.D. Gilbault winning face-offs for us. When you can play ‘make it, take it’ most of the game, it makes up for some of your shortcomings.”
After struggling in his first-ever college game against Santa Clara in face-offs, Gilbault – a true freshman from Bel Air, Maryland – dominated the center circle against UCSB, winning a whopping 23 of 29 face-offs Saturday. That allowed GCU to spin the momentum after every first-half UCSB score. Once the Gauchos got on the board, Clark and McDonald helped continue the Lopes’ 1st-quarter onslaught with another goal each before senior Cam Wengreniuk finished off the 17-shot attack in the first period, rifling through the defense for a goal at point-blank range to give the Lopes a 5-2 lead after one.
GCU built their lead to five before the Gauchos finally started to claw back into the game, cutting the deficit to two midway through the second quarter. The combination of Wengreniuk and Clark helped turn the momentum as Wengreniuk set up a cutting Clark twice for goals to extend the lead back to four at the half, 10-6.
The second half tested the young Lopes’ defense and another true freshman: goalie Lucas Probst, who was making his first start in the net. While the Gauchos found more opportunities for shots on goal after halftime, Probst was up to the task, stopping half of the 26 shots he saw, including several that threatened to bring UCSB back into the game.
“We made the change (in goal) this week, and you never know what to expect,” Rapkin said. “Luke saved most of the shots we wanted him to save, and stole a couple that he shouldn’t have. I’m really encouraged.”
The Lopes built their lead to six early in the 4th with Kyle Crews’ second and Wengreniuk’s third goal of the game. However, a pair of hard cross-checking penalties by GCU put UCSB a man up two different times in the quarter, and the Gauchos took advantage, cutting the lead to two with 1:51 remaining in the game. The final tussle in a game that saw several clashes for ground balls went to GCU, who used the new 80-second shot clock to preserve the win.
Clark’s 4 goals led the way for GCU, while both Wengreniuk and McDonald registered ‘hat tricks’ with three apiece. While the seniors had most of the offensive stats, the maturation of his youth was what satisfied Rapkin about the win.
“Today, we had freshmen in goal and at the face-off X, 3 freshmen defensive middies, and a freshman quarterbacking our offense behind the cage,” Rapkin said. “It’s going to be different than in past years, because it will be a process, but it’s great to watch. It’s fun to watch these young guys develop.” The learning curve continues with another clash against a nationally ranked opponent to finish out the Lopes’ weekend. They’ll host 25th-ranked California Polytechnic State University Sunday, February 24 at Prescott Field. The first face-off is set for noon, and admission is FREE.