The UC Santa Cruz men’s lacrosse team suffered a 2-6 loss to St. Mary’s College on Saturday. As the weary Slugs departed the field, stripping off sweaty shirts and tossing their sticks to the ground, a lone St. Mary’s supporter planted a St. Mary’s flag on the side of the field, taunting the Slugs, bellowing, “This is our house now!”
Although it was officially only one conference game of five, for the players and coaches of the UCSC team, losing to St. Mary’s has been the hardest experience they have had to endure in a struggling season.
Midseason, UCSC stands with two wins and eight losses, a record that threatens to upset their previous season’s record of 10 wins and five losses. The loss also marks the second consecutive conference game UCSC has lost to St. Mary’s.
UCSC men’s lacrosse head coach Jeremy Graves attributes the bitterness of their loss to the fierce competition growing between St. Mary’s and UCSC.
“It’s built up and festered over the years into a big rivalry,” Graves said. “We play them in the regular season and the [Western Collegiate Lacrosse League] conference. St. Mary’s and Santa Cruz are the top two. We’re always the two top teams.”
UCSC men’s lacrosse is a club sport that competes in Division II of the WCLL, playing a regular season in the spring with intermittent conference games. From 2007 to 2009, UCSC won three consecutive WCLL Division II championship games.
Prior to Saturday’s game, team president Samir Chaudry said that the rivalry really intensified following UCSC’s first-ever defeat at the hands of St. Mary’s in the 2010 WCLL Championship.
“They make my fucking blood boil,” Chaudry said. “They beat us last year in the WCLL Championship and took our spot. This game is probably the most meaningful game of the season — we’ve waited so long to play them again.”
Scowling as he repeatedly hurled a lacrosse ball against the OPERS gym wall after the game, senior midfielder Jamie Merkler said that defeat was especially difficult to swallow because he believes UCSC’s team is superior to that of St. Mary’s.
“Last year we beat them in the regular season, then won the [WCLL] championship,” Merkler said. “We’re definitely a better team than them.”
The disappointment of Saturday’s loss was compounded by a lackluster season for UCSC that Chaudry ascribed to the season’s unusually unbalanced schedule.
“We’re a Division II team, and we’ve played a bunch of Division I teams and all of them are ranked,” Chaudry said. “And every Division II team we’ve played is also ranked.”
In 2009, the Slugs defeated the St. Mary’s team in the WCLL Division II championship game 10-1, making it the third consecutive year UCSC went home victorious.
Chaudry credited the team’s graduating seniors for building up the team’s national reputation and prestige, as most, if not all of the players, were on the team during the heydays of the Slug 2007–2009 dynasty.
With only one more possible championship game in their future, the seniors found Saturday’s loss to St. Mary’s especially unbearable.
“This group of seniors kind of defines UCSC lacrosse,” Chaudry said. “When they were freshmen, it was the first time we were nationally ranked, the first time we went to the national championship. We built the program.”
Head coach Graves said that while the Slugs still have a shot at making it to the WCLL Championship, in light of Saturday’s conference game, working on offense will be essential in order to win the necessary games.
“Offensively, we usually put double digits on the board in any game,” Graves said. “We have got to secure the way we play offense. If there’s anything we need to change, it’s finding a system that’s a little more productive [for offense].”
Midfielder Jamie Merkler agreed with this view, specifically citing the tendency of the offense to operate independently instead of coordinating attacks among the players.
“Our defense was great, and our offense too, but they didn’t put it in the net,” Merkler said. “We couldn’t produce like we should have.”
Despite Saturday’s setback, both coach and players expressed unwavering confidence in the strength of their team as a whole and their eagerness for the next match with St. Mary’s in the regular season.
“I think there’s a really bright future, especially because of the freshman class we brought in,” Chaudry said. “The younger kids have an incredible passion for the team. Coach Graves has such an incredible regimen system. We’ll be zooming back into the national tournament.”
Huddling together after the game, Coach Graves addressed his disappointed players in a loud, firm voice that drowned out the jeering of the lone bearer of the St. Mary’s flag.
“We will see them again,” Graves said. “Put it on your calendar. We will see them again. You will line up again with St. Mary’s. I will see you that day.”