Lacrosse has national title on its mind

Contested run: ASU sophomore defender Bryan Siegel sprints downfield during the Sun Devils’ 11-8 victory over UNLV on Sunday. The team lost to Michigan in the National Championship game last year, and are already No. 2 in the polls this season. (Photo by Lisa Bartoli)

For the Arizona State men’s lacrosse team, the past is the past — it’s time to focus on the season at hand, and expectations are high.

After finishing the last year’s season 17-4, ASU was the favorite going into the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference playoffs. Then after strong wins against the University of California at Santa Barbara and Chapman University, the Sun Devils won the SLC championship.

From there the Sun Devils moved on to the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association national tournament, and after winning their first three rounds, they fell in the National Championship game to Michigan.

“[We] need to forget about what we did last season and focus on beating the teams we have to beat this year,” sophomore attackman A.J. Redford said.

The No. 2 Sun Devils had a chance to show their skills in a friendly scrimmage against Nevada Sunday. The team came into the scrimmage with a record of 2-0 in MCLA play, but it gave ASU’s young talent a chance to get some live reps and see where the team needed to improve.

The Sun Devils came out swinging at the beginning of the scrimmage. Goals by ASU freshman attackman Mike Montella, junior midfielder Kris Saunders and Redford got the team going in the first quarter, giving the Sun Devils a 4-0 early lead.

But UNLV struck back in the second quarter, scoring three goals to make it a game.

After some encouraging words from ASU coach Chris Malone during a time out, the Devils got things going again.

Two quick goals in the closing seconds of the second quarter by Saunders and Montella put the Devils up 8-3.

In the second half, ASU’s younger players had their chance on the field.

The third quarter was a defensive struggle: ASU scored only two goals and UNLV added only one point to their score.

In the fourth quarter UNLV caught fire and scored four goals to end the game, but it was too late for the Rebels — the Devils had put the game out of reach with an 11-8 win.

“[The scrimmage] helped in a lot of ways,” Malone said. “It allowed a lot of guys to get in and get some game experience. This was big for us because we need some of these guys to step up.”

After a long year of practice, the Sun Devils are looking forward to the competitive season.

“I am just ready to go out there and play top-10 teams and show what we can do.” sophomore goalie Dylan Westfall said.

After losing several athletes to graduation last year, Malone is looking for some players to step up.

“Ryan Westfall and Eric Nelson are two guys that we are definitely relying on,” Malone said. “They have been here the longest out of anybody. There’s no question those guys have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders.”

Malone is counting on those players to help the team achieve its ultimate goal — an MCLA national championship.

But the road to the championship will not be easy.

“We [have] got to improve every day that we step on the field, whether it is a game, a practice or we are in the classroom,” Malone said.

And the team is on board.

“[It’s] championship or bust,” Westfall said.

The Sun Devils next game is Saturday against No. 13 ranked Boston College at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale.

Reach the reporter at ehubbard@asu.edu