Upsets are something most BYU sports fans are very familiar with. Whether they’re reminiscing on the women’s volleyball team’s victories in their Cinderella run to the 2015 National Championship or expressing their feelings about the recent performance of the football team, “upset” can be heard from the lips of a Cougar fan almost weekly. Those who follow BYU lacrosse, however, didn’t quite know the meaning of the word “upset” until one night in May, 2014.
The perennial powerhouse that is BYU lacrosse suffered an unexpected upset loss in the first round of the 2014 MCLA National Tournament following a regular season that head coach Matt Schneck described as “one of the best that we’d had in a very long time.”
“Every once in a while, you’ll see one of those seasons that’s just an exceptional regular season,” Schneck said. “Last time we had a great season like that, we won the national championship.”
But in 2014, despite entering the tournament as the third seed, the Cougars were unable to win a single game, let alone the championship. As the only team that has made it to the national tournament in each of the 17 seasons it’s been held, an early-round exit didn’t sit well with anyone.
“We don’t want to lose at all, but especially not in the first round of the national tournament in a game that we should win,” senior attackman Mike Fabrizio said.
So coaches made significant changes to various aspects of the team during the offseason. They decided that, after slowly drifting to a more defensive-minded approach to the game over the past few years, they would make a point of returning to the fast-paced, thrilling style of play they’ve had success with previously.
“One thing we’ve talked about is attacking a lot,” Fabrizio said. “If we have an opportunity, even if it’s just a slight window, let’s go for it and try to attack.”
Sophomore defenseman Harrison Wardle believes those who come see their games will also love the team’s new emphasis.
“We play fast, which is fun to watch,” he said.
BYU lost only two seniors from last year’s squad, which means there are a lot of returning players who will contribute to this season’s expected success. When asked to identify standout players, Schneck singled out Fabrizio and Wardle as the leaders and captains of the team, but he was careful to emphasize that overall depth is the real strength of his club.
“We have a tremendous amount of returning experience, which is fantastic,” he said. “Hands down, this team is stronger than the team we had last year. It’s larger. It’s stronger. It’s more experienced.”
As for the captains, Fabrizio was nominated as a preseason national player of the year, which is “the equivalent of the Heisman watch list” for college football, according to Schneck.
“He’s one of the leading scorers in the country, he’s the leading scorer on our team, so we expect great things from Mike,” Schneck said.
Wardle may not have received the national preseason accolades that his co-captain has, but Fabrizio is particularly impressed with his talent and leadership abilities.
“He’s an awesome player,” he said. “If he stays healthy, he’ll possibly go down as one of the best defenders that BYU’s ever had. Guys his age and even older look up to him.”
Schneck expressed his excitement that Wardle was selected as a captain in his sophomore year.
“Harrison is one of the few players on our team that really had an opportunity to play pretty much anywhere in the country,” Schneck said. “He could have been playing at any NCAA Division-1 school on scholarship, but he wanted to be at BYU.”
Expectations for BYU lacrosse are high, but the team’s last national championship was in 2011, and it hasn’t won a conference championship since 2009. Fabrizio joined the team in 2012, which means he and his fellow seniors have never experienced a championship of any kind. If things go as planned, that streak will end this season.
“There are generations of (BYU lacrosse) players, and for the last while those generations have each had at least one or two championships,” Fabrizio said. “My generation, my senior class, we’re one that hasn’t won a championship. So we would definitely like our legacy to finish with a national championship.”