By: Lucas Ailport
The University of Montana men’s lacrosse team will look for redemption this upcoming season. The Grizzlies came up short against the College of Idaho in overtime for the conference championship last spring.
Despite not winning the conference, the Grizzlies were voted to finish first in the Pacific Northwest Collegiate Lacrosse League (PNCLL) by coaches. College of Idaho was voted as a close second.
“I think there’s no reason why we shouldn’t go back and fight for a conference championship,” head coach Tucker Sargent said. “That’s always going to be one of our goals.”
Montana will travel to Portland, Ore., on Feb. 8 and will play both the Portland State Vikings and University of Portland Pilots to open the season. The Grizzlies defeated the Vikings 20-12 in its last meeting in 2005. Montana also dealt Portland a 15-6 loss last season.
The Vikings are projected to finish sixth in the PNCLL, while the Pilots are projected to finish seventh. This road trip will pose as a tune-up weekend for Montana. The Grizzlies’ first outdoor practice wasn’t until Jan. 29 due to the weather. Beforehand, Montana held practice inside a gym and focused on fundamentals and conditioning.
After the Portland roadtrip the Grizzlies will travel to both Minnesota and North Dakota to play the defending national champions North Dakota State and 5th ranked St. John’s University.
“It’s going to be an eye-opener right away, so that’s going to really set a high tempo to start,” senior midfielder Hayden Smith said. “It will help the younger guys who haven’t played against teams like NDSU and help them get on the same page.”
The scheduling is all part of Sargent’s master plan to ensure his team can compete at the highest possible level. The stronger the schedule, the more impressive the Grizzlies’ resumé can be when it comes to the national tournament at the end of the season.
The winner of the PNCLL playoffs at the end of the season recieve a bid to play at the national tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Two top attackmen return for their sophomore seasons in hopes to start where they left off last spring. Jimmy Pierce and Miguel Generoso will lead the offense once again this season.
Pierce led the team with 49 goals and racked up a total of 58 points. The six-foot 224-pound Akwesasne, N.Y., native knows how to use his physique to his advantage and use his body to get to the net.
It’s fair to say Generoso is the yin to Pierce’s yang. The Glacier High School alumni from Kalispell is five inches shorter and about 60 pounds lighter than Pierce, but has played a vital role in setting up scoring opportunities. Generoso tallied 32 assists and found the back of the net 20 times last season. He’s a quick, smart, unselfish playmaker.
Along with Generoso and Pierce, will be junior Aidan Larson. He has tallied 51 goals in his 27 games as a Grizzly.
“We know how each other plays and we know where we want the ball to be,” Pierce said. “We just developed that chemistry, so with all three of us it's going to be a pretty good show.”
Montana may be out with a key midfielder in Nate Hanold for a few months, but the team won’t fret because first team all-conference goalkeeper Andrew Moesel, the PNCLL defensive player of the year will help lead the defense. Moesel finished last season with a career-high save percentage of 64.8 percent.
Overall the team is motivated and excited to get back in action. Smith said that players seemed all-in throughout the first week of practice.
“We had guys puking on the first day,” Smith said. “It’s always good to see guys working hard and getting uncomfortable.”
This will be Montana’s 22nd season since the program was formed in 1997.