After years of watching another team hoist the cup as champions of the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse Conference, the CSU men’s lacrosse team is once again on top.
The Rams (16-2) beat the defending champions, BYU, 15-10 on Saturday for their first conference title since 2006.
The road it took to get there, however, was not an easy one as the team came out a little sluggish in the first game of the tournament against Utah. CSU’s flat performance in the first half only had them up 5-2 before exploding to a 15-7 victory.
Head coach Alex Smith was not pleased with what he saw from his team, even though the win looked easy on paper.
“I did not think we played very good against Utah because we didn’t have a lot of energy,” Smith said. “It definitely wasn’t the type of game we would need to beat BYU, because they’re so much of a better team.”
Some of the adjustments had to come from a focus stand point, said senior co-captain Andrew Stein.
“Just as a team, as whole, we were a little slow in the first half especially,” Stein said. “I think a little bit of it was we looked past them more than we should have. We didn’t game plan for them as much as the other two teams, CU and BYU.”
The championship game between the Rams and BYU was the second meeting of the teams in as many weeks.
Once more, the Rams played a hard-fought first half, trailing 7-6, and had to make changes on the defensive end of the field. The changes worked to perfection, allowing only three goals the second half. The victory was only the second time CSU had bested BYU since 2006.
Much of the credit for the turnaround in the second half against Utah and into the BYU game can be attributed to junior Cooper Kehoe, the RMLC’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Kehoe continued his regular season dominance into the conference tournament, turning in a six-point effort against Utah with three goals and three assists. He followed it up with another spectacular performance in the championship game, racking up eight more points on two goals and six assists.
“(Cooper) is kind of the heart and soul of our team and plays that hard every day,” Smith said. “He doesn’t have an ego, he is a team guy and he’s a real pleasure to coach.”
Kehoe understands that he is important to his team’s success but remains humble and eager to help the team keep winning.
“It was cool, but I couldn’t have done it without everyone else, and it was just nice to dish out the love to everyone,” Kehoe said. “I feel like our whole team went really deep and a lot of guys got to drop some points.”
The championship is special to all the players and coaches, but for the seniors it’s just a bit sweeter.
“BYU always has a great program and gives their best, so it was really nice to get a championship under my belt (against BYU),” Stein said. “I’ve faced them about six or eight times before that without winning. It feels good –– really satisfying.”
With a conference title to their name, the Rams can take it all in and use the experience for the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association National Tournament in Denver.
“Oh it’s great. I haven’t had this experience yet, I mean I hadn’t beat BYU since I was first here,” Kehoe said. “It shows that we can play with anybody and I think it will help us later along the road.”