MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.– The men’s lacrosse team at the University of Minnesota kicks off the 2018 season against Minnesota State–Mankato tonight at 7:30pm in Eden Prairie. This marks the third consecutive year that Minnesota has opened its season against the Mavericks.
Last season, Minnesota finished 11-4 in their first year in the CCLA, taking an early exit from the CCLA tournament with a 12-11 loss to Pittsburgh. Their 11-4 record marked the best season record since 2005 (17-4), with 3 of the 4 losses being one-goal games. Minnesota ranked No. 19 in the final polls for 2017.
Previewing the Mavericks
This season, Minnesota State makes their return to MCLA Division I after spending the past two seasons in Division II. Last season they finished 2-8 overall and a combined 6-14 while competing in Division II. The Mavericks have a young team, as their team consists of 11 freshman, 6 sophomores, and 2 juniors.
Minnesota State will be led by first–year head coach Jeremy Goltz. Goltz is a native of Prior Lake and was a midfielder for Stevenson University from 2014–2017. He will be attempting to revitalize Mankato’s program in a revamped UMLC that is up for grabs.
State of the Conference
Minnesota State’s return to UMLC DI was sparked by the UMLC absorbing the GRLC. The UMLC now has 11 teams in Division I and 6 teams in Division II. Teams now in UMLC DI are: Illinois, Illinois State, Indiana, Oakland, Purdue, Iowa State, Kansas, Minnesota State–Mankato, Missouri, Nebraska, and St. Cloud. Division II teams in the UMLC are Dayton, Grand Valley State, St. Thomas, Minnesota–Duluth, North Dakota State, and St. John’s. Former CCLA teams Oakland, Dayton, and Grand Valley State opted to move to the UMLC. This has left the CCLA as a Division I only conference with six teams.
In the Polls
Minnesota received its highest preseason ranking in Coach Limpert’s tenure, landing at No. 17 in this week’s Under Amour MCLA Coaches Poll. They also were ranked No. 17 in the Nike/US Lacrosse preseason poll and No. 16 by Inside Lacrosse.
In the CCLA preseason poll, Minnesota ranked 2nd behind Michigan State who was the unanimous pick at No. 1. Pittsburgh was close behind Minnesota at No. 3, followed by Davenport. Western Michigan and Central Michigan tied for 5th.
New Gopher Faces
There will be a handful of newcomers making their Minnesota debut. After losing their defensive core to graduation, Minnesota will feature several brand new faces in a reloaded defense. Junior Aaron Peterson has been named the starting goaltender for today’s contest. Minnesota has also bolstered their defensive depth with the additions of sophomore Mitch Grengs and freshman William Watkins who both transferred and arrived this spring. Grengs transferred from Detroit Mercy (NCAA DI) while Watkins transferred from Denison (NCAA DIII).
On the offensive end, Minnesota graduated 2 of their top three goal scorers. However, the arrival of Malik Ekpenyong will provide an additional punch to an already experienced midfield. Tyler (TJ) Swenson will be expected to have a large role as a defensive midfielder while Lucas Martin and Jake Carter have added depth as long-stick midfielders.
Top Returning Gophers
Amar Batra set new program records for a freshman, putting up 38 goals and 39 assists in 2017. The sophomore attackman will be leading the attack unit and continuing where he left off last season. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s top scoring midfielders return in Trenton Woodcock and Chandler Sampson. Woodcock and Sampson, along with Josh Werkmeister will be leading a dangerous midfield group with Kamal Baker and Carter Kasianov due for a breakout season.
Niklas Damberg has been quietly making his case as being one of the top faceoff specialists in the MCLA. The 3x All-American finished 2017 with a .632 win percentage and led the team with 90 groundballs. More impressively is that he accomplished that despite playing with a fractured arm during the second half of the season. Damberg will be looking to give Minnesota an extra edge this season with his performance at the X.
With a full season as a long-pole under his belt, junior Clay Diedrich has now become the leader of the defense. His physical play in 2017 led him to be among Minnesota’s leaders in caused turnovers (13).