SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – The moment the Utah lacrosse team beat Air Force Sunday to win the ASUN Conference championship for the first time ever was one the Utes will never forget.
“Man, it was honestly surreal,” said junior Tyler Bradbury. “I honestly don’t think it hit me until that final whistle blew. We always talk about not looking at the score and not thinking about wins and losses. But when that whistle blew and guys were throwing their gear off, it was all I ever wanted.”
“It was obviously a super happy moment,” said junior Josh Rose. “Seeing those videos, it just shows the love that we have, and there was just a lot of hard work that we put into that moment.”
It has been an incredible ascent for a program that just five years ago was a club sport. Now Utah is ranked 17th in the country and headed to its first NCAA Tournament against #3 Notre Dame on Saturday.
“I’m certainly very pleased with how quickly we’ve had the success that we’ve had,” said head coach Andrew McMinn. “We had the goal from last year to go out there and we felt like we could compete to be at the top of the conference.”
“A big recruiting pitch for me to come out was that this was a completely new program,” Bradbury said. “You guys are at ground zero right now, and it was like, what do you want to do with this new program, and obviously we wanted to take it to a new level.”
Some students on campus don’t even realize Utah has a lacrosse team.
“Since being so new, a lot of people were like, oh you have a lacrosse team?” said Rose. “Or they think I’m on a club lacrosse team. But it’s been super cool seeing banners on campus trying to get people to the games.”
The Utes started the season 1-4, but have since reeled off 11 straight victories. They 12 wins is the most in school history, and Utah went a perfect 9-0 in conference play.
“We just really challenged the guys to stay the course,” McMinn said. “That’s a big philosophy that I’ve always had and tried to instill here is regardless of our scenario or what our record is at any point in time. We’re going to make sure that we just stay focused on doing what we need to do to become the best team that we can.”
As the second highest scoring team in the country, Utah is the only team in the nation with six players that have scored over 20 goals in Jordan Hyde (49), Ryan Stines (37), Bradbury (32), Koa Todd (28), Jared Andreala (26) and Carson Moyer (23). Moyer scored four goals in Utah’s 11-9 victory over Air Force Sunday to win the conference title and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“Our offense has been super high-powered this year,” Bradbury said. “A lot of teams have one or two guys that can take over a game, but I don’t think we have that. That’s why our offense is so good.”
“That opens up other guys,” Rose said. “I think all of our guys bring their all every single day. It speaks to our teamwork and our next player up mentality.”
Of the 17 teams in the NCAA Tournament, Utah is geographically the most western school. So the Utes feel like they’re not only playing for Utah, but also for an entire region of the country.
“I actually look at it like we’re the western most team, we have nothing to lose right now,” Bradbury said. “No one really expects anything out of us. Let’s just show them what we have. Let’s be that underdog and show them that the east coast schools don’t rule lacrosse.”
Notre Dame is 10-2 this season with its only two losses coming to #2 Virginia. Utah has played ranked teams like #17 Denver, #10 Jacksonville, #16 Johns Hopkins and #8 Rutgers. But the Fighting Irish will be the best team Utah has played this year.
“They’re a great team,” said Bradbury. “But we’ve played some of the top teams in the country. Looking back on those games, we’ve seen where we went wrong and what we could have done better. We know it was all on us.”
“We’ve played teams that are top teams in the country, and that’s something we’re used to,” added Rose. “Those games have prepared us, and our mentality that we can play with the top teams.”
#17 Utah and #3 Notre Dame will square off Saturday in South Bend, Indiana at 12:30 MT.