MCLA Tournament in SoCal presents a huge opportunity

Oregon at Chapman 2013

When the MCLA announced Saturday that it’s week-long national championship tournament would be played in Irvine next spring and again in 2015, my first thought was what a great opportunity it could be to showcase the best club lacrosse in the country for a SoCal audience.

Of course, we get that every spring, with the likes of Chapman, UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly locally, and clubs like Arizona State, BYU, Colorado, Colorado State, Oregon and others coming to play here as visitors. But the MCLA Tournament format, bringing the top 16 qualifiers in each of two divisions to one location for a week-long event, does serve to shine a bigger spotlight on top club play.

If you missed it, the MCLA — Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association — announced Saturday that it’s national tournament, held in Greenville, S.C., the last two years, will be held in Orange County the next two years, with UC Irvine hosting the first two rounds and Chapman hosting the semifinal and championship games.

“I think having the MCLA tournament on the West Coast is a great opportunity to showcase the MCLA in an area where the MCLA, in particular the SLC [Southwest Lacrosse Conference] and the WCLL [West Coast Lacrosse Conference], has many great teams,” Chapman coach Dallas Hartley wrote in an email.

Chapman has qualified for the tournament in each of the last six seasons, and Santa Barbara has qualified six times in the last seven years. In fact, of the 16 Division I MCLA teams to make it to Greenville last spring, 11 came from the West — 12 if you count Texas.

The strength of the MCLA in the West, and Southern California is particularly strong. That, combined with the explosion of lacrosse in high school and youth levels, makes this an ideal location for a national event. I asked Charlie Meister, who runs the LA Lacrosse League and has been working with the USC club team, what he thought of the tournament coming to the area.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity to showcase MCLA college lacrosse,” Meister wrote in an email. “After all, most of the boys playing in SoCal will go on to play at an MCLA [school]. I hope all the youth and high school programs will get behind it so that the kids can get more familiar with the players and the teams they represent.”

Zack Winters
UCLA hosts the Pac-12 Shootout, drawing clubs from Washington to Utah to Arizona.

We hear a lot about the Chapmans, Santa Barbaras and Cal Polys, teams that regularly contend for berths at the national tournament. But UCLA, USC, Loyola Marymount and Claremont all play in the SLC’s Division I, and 11 local schools play D-II, highlighted by Concordia (Irvine) and Cal State Fullerton. Concordia has represented the SLC at nationals the last two seasons, and Fullerton earned the honor the previous three.

D.J. Bagley, coach at UCLA, said, “It’s exciting to have a national championship here in Southern California,” but he also pointed out how important it is for the local lacrosse community to get behind the event.

“As ambassadors or coaches of lacrosse in Southern California, we are going to have to get people out to the games,” Bagley said. “Greenville didn’t have casual fans; it was mostly friends and family.”

So that’s the challenge for the MCLA, the SLC and the member clubs — between now and the middle of May spread the word. Make sure young laxers in the area who aren’t bound for NCAA schools understand what other opportunities exist, both here and at other schools across the country.