Kowalski, Yount Headline SLC Watch List

2015 is shaping up to be one of the most competitive seasons in recent memory for the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference.  While Orange County rivals Concordia University and Cal State Fullerton bring back the reigning offensive and defensive players of the year, talent is is abundant throughout the conference. Our All Conference Watch list provides a glimpse on who will be the difference makers this year.

Attack: 
David Shaum, Biola  (Lewis Palmer High School, CO)
It’s hard to ignore a guy who posted a conference-best 89 points in 2014. Shaum’s sophomore year was a smashing success, matching his 64 goals with 25 assists en route to All-American and First Team All-Conference nods. He’s got the benefit of another young star in Jonathan Prichard, who nearly made this list as well, as a fellow star attackman. In fact, you have to look at the No. 8 spot on Biola’s points leaders last year to find the first graduated player. With the whole crew coming back, things should be on the rise for Shaum, whose point totals may actually even see an uptick.

Austin Jenkin, Cal State San Marcos (Fallbrook High School)
A local star that emerged with Cal State San Marcos last season, Jenkin reveled in freshman success rarely seen from a first-year player. Like Shaum, he’ll benefit from a slew of returners to accompany him on the offensive side of things. If his 80-point season (60 goals, 20 assists) is an indicator of things to come, there’s a good chance Jenkin will be shattering records before all is said and done. A point of improvement could be finding a way to score against the conference’s premier defenses, as he was held to only 1 point in each game against Concordia and Cal State Fullerton. CSU San Marcos has a long way to go before it’s a contending force in the SLC, but the presence of Jenkin certainly carries it a long way.

Jack Kahane, Occidental (El Segundo High School)
Kahane has tallied goal totals of over 30 in all of his three seasons at Occidental, with a career points mark of 167. The 2015 spring will mark his first time serving as a captain for the Tigers, and after a disappointing 4-6 record last year, all eyes will be on Kahane to lead this offensive unit. The team has lost four-year starter and offensive spark plug Doug Calder to graduation, meaning Kahane will be tasked with shouldering the load of the scoring. While last year was a regression from his sophomore year in both goal total and assist total, expect to see the senior swing things in the right direction as Occidental tries to reclaim the conference’s top spot.

Midfield:
Alex Kowalski, Cal State Fullerton (Huntington Beach High School)
As a freshman, Kowalski was named the SLC Offensive Player of the Year, leading Fullerton in goals (47) and points (53). His contributions helped to propel the Titans to the forefront of the SLC, with only one game during which he didn’t score a hat trick. Keep in mind that these totals were recorded in only 12 games, meaning he averaged just shy of four goals per game (3.92). If CSUF is going to be back atop the conference in 2015, it’s going to come on the heels of Kowalski’s offensive prowess. Three significant graduations have the Titans losing 128 combined points from last year, so the sophomore will be additionally relied upon to produce.

Jeffrey Gibb, Northern Arizona (Lewis Palmer High School, CO)
A solid progression at Northern Arizona gave Gibb a 52-point season to follow up a 37-point debut year. He’s proven he can do it all, but it’s evident that he is a pass-first player. He posted several impressive assist marks in 2014 en route to his SLC-leading season total of 40, including a 5-assist game against Biola, a 7-assist performance versus UC Irvine, and an incredible 9-assist output when the Lumberjacks played New Mexico. If these games are an example of what’s to come, Gibb could emerge even further as an assists leader on a national scale. The absence of Alexander Adler and Jake Mastro, who combined for 68 goals last season, will hurt. But the lack of a true goal-scorer will perhaps open the door for Gibb to find some twine for himself and expand into an even more well-rounded threat.

Chase Matranga, Concordia (Dana Hills High School)
After a freshman year serving as a role player in 2013, Matranga became a force to be reckoned with as a sophomore. Even though he was buried behind All American attackmen Jim Little and Josh Fagan as an offensive option, they’re both gone this year – leaving Matranga as top dog. And that’s not to say that 2014 was anything shabby, as he was able to post a 43-point year with a nice balance of 26 goals and 17 assists. This spring, he’ll be tested as the offense’s top option, with the losses having added up for the Eagles. Concordia is coming off a down year and could be heading into a transitional period, but if the Eagles are able to get back to the tournament, it’ll come on the shoulders of Matranga heading up this offensive unit.

Defense:
Brendan Yount, Concordia (JSerra Catholic High School)
As the reigning SLC Defensive Player of the Year, all eyes will be on Yount as the anchor for Concordia’s defense. Both of his seasons as an Eagle have ended with First Team All Conference nods, and last year he found himself on the All American roster as well. It’s not going to be an easy season for the third-year player with how many offensive threats have emerged in the conference. With how well Yount has handled each team’s top weapon for the past two years, though, he’s likely to find a way to shut any individual player down.

Ryan De Leon, UC San Diego (Otay Ranch High School)
De Leon arrived at UCSD at the same time that Yount arrived at Concordia, and in some ways he’s been overshadowed. Don’t mistake that for a lack of star power from De Leon, though – this is a player that’s been an effective shutdown option, as evidenced by his appearance on the SLC All-Freshman team in 2013 and his First Team All-Conference nod a year after that. His 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame makes him a versatile and adaptable defender capable of keeping up with any style of offense. In order for UCSD to be able to make a splash in the conference this spring, De Leon will need to play lights out game in and game out.

Jake Cowin, Northern Arizona (Fall City High School, WA)
Cowin may not fly off the page as a star defenseman, but he’s a likely breakout candidate after the departure of the starting d-poles in front of him for the Lumberjacks. Conor Hawblitzel was an All-Conference representative that led the charge for a stout NAU defense, and in 2015 Cowin will be tasked with taking on that responsibility, Last year, in his second season with the team, he snagged a starting spot and secured 40 ground balls. Once play gets underway this spring, Cowin will be the top option on a defense that boasts a great goalie and a consistent system that’s been proven to work. Expect him to shine in his third year at NAU.

Goalie:
Ian Smith, Northern Arizona (Eastside Catholic High School, WA)
A small-statured goalie with a big game, Smith could be the saving grace for an NAU team trying to make a national impact. The 5-foot-7, 150-pound goaltender had a great freshman year in front of the net, posting a save percentage of .644. He took home First Team All-Conference honors and it’s hard to imagine him being anything but the front-runner for the spot again this year. He’ll likely have a bit of a tougher time without Hawblitzel to help him out on the defensive side of things, but expect his progression to overwhelm that minor setback. If the sophomore captain emerges as a brick wall, 2015 could be a nightmare year for offenses that have to take on the Lumberjacks.

John Harzan, Biola (Orange Lutheran High School, CA)
Another youngster who’s only had one year to make a splash, Harzan was also able to secure a spot on the All-Conference roster. There’s a likely chance that he’ll spend much of his career being overshadowed by Smith, unless of course he is able to leap past the NAU goalie as he develops. The Eagles’ goalie didn’t post a stellar goals-against average (10.5), but his saves per game (11.06) paint a picture. If Harzan is being peppered with quality shots, it’s a fault of the defense in front of him. Should Biola hit the reset button and field a defense that can limit shots on goal, Harzan may very well be the talk of the conference as a goalie capable of taking a game over when given the opportunity.

Face-off Specialist:
Hunter Hirsch, UC San Diego (Point Loma High School)
Entering his senior year, the 6-foot, 185-pound face-off specialist has a chance to wrap up a stellar career as a Triton. He’s won over 65 percent of the draws he’s taken on his career, and his career-high 71 percent mark in 2014 indicates he’s far from his best days. You’d have to go back to the final game of his sophomore year to find the last time he’d lost a face-off battle over the course of the game, and if he keeps his streak alive, it’s going to be extremely challenging for teams to overwhelm the automatic advantage he’ll give the Tritons once conference play starts.