Cal, Utah Emerge as Traditional Powers Falter

It’s early in the season, but two teams have taken significant strides in bolstering their national relevance. California, ranked No. 14 in the preseason, is 4-0, and unranked Utah is 3-0, sweeping a road trip to Southern California and Nevada.

The California Golden Bears have rolled through their first four games, thanks to face-off man Jake Pistotnik (Sierra Canyon) having big success at the X. The freshman has won 44 of 56 draws (.786), collected 29 ground balls and also has tallied at least a point in each of the team’s four contests. He’s not the only southern California product making an impact. Freshman Jake Lombardo (Aliso Niguel) is second on the team in points, with 14.

The Golden Bears aren’t alone in their meteoric rise to prominence. Utah made headlines across the country this past offseason, after the team’s newly-hired coaching staff announced plans to go NCAA Division I. Now the Utes are backing that hype up with an on-field product, as the team took down preseason No. 1 Chapman 12-9 to open its season Thursday. Sophomore Jacob Stout, who transferred after a 25-point freshman campaign at Utah Valley, led the team with 4 points in the upset win. Utah also took care of business against Washington in the Pac-12 Shootout and beat the UNLV Rebels on Monday.

Chapman isn’t the only SLC team that is struggling, either. In fact, the conference’s ranked teams have stumbled out of the gates, to a combined 8-11 record through the first few weeks. It’s an unprecedented widespread slump, one that  likely will reverberate through Wednesday’s national polls.

Arizona schools can’t find offense

In eight games combined, Arizona and Arizona State are allowing an average of 7.75 goals. Seems like it should bode well in the record column, right? Instead, the combined record for the LaxCats and Sun Devils is a disappointing 3-5, as both teams are a game under .500 after a historically poor start. Each squad has scored in double digits only once.

For ASU, despite a 12-7 win Sunday over Georgia, a lot will be riding on the next four games, all against teams ranked in the Top 20. Arizona, on the other hand, has a moment to catch its breath as there is a two-week gap between now and the team’s next game.

Don’t forget about Grand Canyon, either. The 2015 MCLA champions have yet to play a game this season. Senior midfielder Austin Ekeroth (Rancho Bernardo) hopes to lead the offensive unit, entering the season with 89 career points. Former starting goalie Brandon Suchand (St. Margaret’s Episcopal) has shifted positions and will now be playing in the field as a long pole. Suchand made a similar switch in 2013, coming out of the cage to become a first-team All-County defenseman who helped lead St. Margaret’s to the Southern Section championship.  Grand Canyon kicks off its season on Thursday in a Top 5 matchup against the Colorado Buffaloes.

Other SLC news and notes

UC Santa Barbara also can be lumped into the offensive deficiency department. It’s impressive that the Gauchos have managed two wins while averaging only 6.5 goals a game. The defense has been stellar, though, and UCSB’s latest loss can hardly be held against them — a 4-3 nail-biter against soon-to-be No. 1 Cal Poly.

After back-to-back losses against Chapman and Oregon, No. 23 San Diego State saw a significant bounce back effort against USC. The Aztecs trailed 9-7 at halftime but produced a 10-4 second-half surge to win 17-13. A 10-point outing by emerging star attackman Adrian Jeffries (Lafayette, Calif.) led the offense. The team is now back to .500, with a pair of winnable games ahead before it re-enters the fray against ranked opponents.

It was a quiet week on the SLC’s Division II front. The standout performances belonged to No. 21 Northern Arizona, as the Lumberjacks dropped 46 goals while coasting to a 2-0 start against Biola and Cal State Channel Islands. Midfielder Arash Nodznaia (Scripps Ranch HS) had two points but collected 13 ground balls over the weekend. Junior Sean Mastro (Huntington Beach) chipped in a goal and three assists, after a 2016 season that saw him put up 75 points.