Grand Canyon, ASU host Colorado schools

In a weekend that could prove pivotal for the entire SLC, two of the three Arizona schools — Grand Canyon and Arizona State — are heading into crucial matchups. It’s an SLC vs. RMLC showdown. To kick things off on Thursday, the University of Colorado squares off with GCU.

No. 2 Colorado at No. 5 Grand Canyon – Thurs., Feb. 23, 4 p.m. PT

No. 6 Colorado State at No. 5 Grand Canyon – Sat., Feb. 25, 1 p.m. PT

This one is a rematch of the 2015 MCLA Championship Game, in which GCU won the SLC’s first title, and it has the makings of another tournament game preview. It’s the first game of 2017 for the Lopes, and already they’re the only unbeaten team in the conference. Senior attackman Joe Balestrieri (Rancho Bernardo) — who put up 87 points last year, his first season with Grand Canyon — will be instrumental to breaking down a stout CU defense. Before transferring to GCU, Balestrieri tallied 26 points as a sophomore at NCAA D-III Stevenson University.

For the Buffs, junior Carter Esqueda (Thousand Oaks) is the offensive player of note. The attackman is coming off of a 41-point season and had two goals and an assist in the team’s opening win over Dominican.

Later in the weekend, the Colorado State Rams come to town with a head of steam after also kicking off their season with a win over Dominican. There are a lot of difference-makers on this roster, but perhaps none are as essential to the team’s success as face-off man Ryan Chamberlain (Great Oak), who took home All-RMLC honors and was named the RMLC Defensive Player of the Year in 2016. He’s going up against unproven competition for the Lopes, as the only two face-off specialists on the GCU roster are freshmen following the graduation of long-time FOS Ronnie Hamwey (Lancaster, Mass.) last year.

No. 6 Colorado State at No. 14 Arizona State – Thurs., Feb. 23, 7 p.m. PT

No. 2 Colorado at No. 14 Arizona State – Sat., Feb. 25, 1:30 p.m. PT

CSU starts opens the weekend against the Sun Devils, who are off to a slow start through three games. Both losses have come to ranked teams, but ASU’s stock with the pollsters plummeted Wednesday as the Sun Devils dropped to No. 14 in the country, their lowest mark in years. Goalie Johnny Perlite (De La Salle) has been a bright spot for the Sun Devils, only allowing 6.67 goals per game with a save percentage of 67.7. This is a rematch of last year’s first-round MCLA Tournament matchup, which ASU won 8-7.

Saturday, the Colorado Buffs pay a visit to Arizona State in yet another MCLA Championship rematch, this one from 2014. The Sun Devils will need offensive production against Colorado’s top-tier defense, meaning players like Jake Marthens (Trabuco Hills) will need to step up. The sophomore attackman has six goals in three games so far.

No. 12 Chapman at No. 8 California – Sat., Feb. 25, 1 p.m. PT

This game pits the reigning champs, who already have lost two games, against an upstart Cal Bears team looking to build on a 4-0 start. If Chapman isn’t already in must-win mode, it’s certainly close. But there’s no better way to turn a season around than a two-game road trip to face ranked teams. The Panthers will take on on Stanford later in the weekend.

For Chapman, the offense appears to be feeling the loss to injury of 2016 MCLA Player of the Year Dylan Garner (Portland, Ore.). After scoring 15 goals in an opening win over San Diego State, the Panthers have managed just 14 combined in losses to Utah and Oregon. Senior attacks Steve Koressel (Huntington Beach) and Regan Kelly (Redwood) have produced nine goals. That duo will continue to get looks as the rest of the offense tries to find its rhythm against a Cal that has dominated possession (74 percent face-off wins) in its 4-0 start.

Division II

Cal State Long Beach at UC San Diego – Sat., Feb. 25, 2 p.m. PT

While this isn’t a meeting of ranked teams, it likely will carry some weight in the SLC D-II standings. Both Long Beach and UCSD are vying for spots in the conference tournament. For the 49ers, attackman Cameron Yerzyk (Chaminade College Prep) has led the way with 14 points in the team’s three games. The team has lost two of those matchups — by one goal to UCLA and two to Claremont — so it’s crucial The Beach finds a way to turn things around heading into the middle portion of the season.

The Tritons can act like they’ve been here before, because they have. A consistent presence in the SLC Tournament, UCSD has gotten off to a quality 2-0 start in 2017. Senior attackman Evan Jenkin (Fallbrook) has seven assists already and nine total points. The Tritons have had no problem scoring, posting 33 total goals so far.