Seniors Scott Heberer and Matt Graupmann started playing lacrosse together when they were in the seventh grade. Ten years later, they are leading the Cal Poly men’s lacrosse team into nationals ranked as the No. 1 seed in the country.
This week, the lacrosse team made it past the first round and quarterfinals to the final four playing for the top spot in the Men’s College Lacrosse Association (MCLA) national tournament in Greenville, S.C., after winning the West Coast Lacrosse League (WCLL) title for the fourth year in a row.
“It’s always exciting when we get our bid to nationals,” Graupmann said. “I’m excited, it’s pretty much lacrosse all week. We fly out Saturday, practice Sunday, our first game is Monday; if we win that, we have another game Tuesday, semi-finals Thursday and finals Saturday.”
The Cal Poly men’s lacrosse team is a club sport operated under Student Life and Leadership. Of the 50 players on the team, 41 will be competing this week.
Cal Poly has never before won a MCLA championship, Graupmann said. In the past three years, the team has lost in the first round every time.
“It kills me,” Graupmann said. “Cal Poly doesn’t have a very deep history of going far in this tournament, but that’s why there’s a lot of excitement (this year). I’ve been getting a lot of calls from alumni cheering us on and encouraging us because they’re excited about the chance we have.”
Right now, the team’s record stands at 18-1 and with the bracket lineup, it has a good chance of going far in nationals, Graupmann said.
“All the teams that I wouldn’t want to see until the end of the tournament are on the other side of the bracket,” he said. “I think we can go all the way. Everyone is ready to go. We’re fired up. We can win it all.”
With more than 80 teams in the league, “being the best is just a huge gratification of hard work paying off in the end,” Graupmann said. “I would get a huge sense of pride being able to say I won a national championship.”
Graupmann said the team’s success this year has a lot to do with the players’ confidence at each game.
“It’s not really are we going to lose or win, it’s when are we going to win,” he said. “You might mistake it for cockiness, but we have a really confident team this year, and having that mental edge can really push you through a game.”
Founded in the ’80s, the team practices an average of 10 hours a week, and starting in February, travels almost every weekend to divisional games for the WCLL.
Balancing school and sport takes a lot of time management, Graupmann said, but professors are generally understanding.
“A lot of the teachers at Poly acknowledge what we’re trying to do, and push us to achieve our goals athletically while pushing us academically,” Graupmann said. “I’ve found a lot of teachers will go out of their way to help us because they know we’re making a good name for the school.”
The WCLL requires a minimum 2.0 GPA and an average enrollment of at least 12 units per quarter.
Team captain and senior Tim DeSimone said most of the members of the team are used to days filled with school and sport, and being students at a competitive school hasn’t stopped them from being No. 1 in the nation for the past month.
“There’s something to be said for being so highly ranked on just a club team, with a hard school that’s hard to get into and still playing at such a high level,” DeSimone said. “There’s a lot of kids that are very smart and have very difficult majors that are at every practice without an excuse.”
DeSimone said the lacrosse team has already beaten every team they could face this week. “It’s more of our tournament to lose; I think we could run the table for sure.”
This season, more than 11 players on the lacrosse team are seniors. Captain and senior Scott Heberer said not only have he and Graupmann been on the same team for many years, but there is a strong core of seniors that have been playing together since their freshman year.
“We have all grown together, and the leadership has sort of evolved throughout the years,” Heberer said. “This is our last year together. This year, this is our year.”
Heberer said the key to doing well in nationals is to keep practices competitive.
“We have a little chip on our shoulder,” Heberer said. “We know we have confidence that we can pull off the game and come from behind; we know we are capable and have the maturity.” Heberer said.
Heberer and Graupmann both said playing together for so many years has been fun.
“You can see our chemistry on the field,” Graupmann said. “(Heberer) will make eyes with me almost and throw the ball and I’ll be able to go catch it and shoot. It’s just one of those things from playing together so long, we’re usually on the same page.”
Even after 10 years of playing lacrosse, “all the time is worth it to me,” Graupmann said. “I just really love the game. I hate losing. I love being involved athletically. It’s so much fun to me that there’s no reason why I would not play.”
If Cal Poly defeats Arizona State University in the final four round today, the team will play the winner of the Brigham Young University versus Colorado State University game for the MCLA championship.