The Midwest Lacrosse Conference has a new look this year. The
refuge for schools in flyover country looking for access to the
NCAA tournament since 2010, the MLC has managed to seed a pair of
new leagues while still keeping the seven squads necessary for its
own NCAA automatic qualifier.
Despite the membership tumult, there has been one constant:
Aurora’s primacy since the ’13 season.
The Spartans have won the conference the past two years and are
one of only nine teams in Division III that have advanced to the
second round of the NCAA tournament the past two seasons. The other
eight? Cabrini, Cortland, Lynchburg, RIT, Salisbury, Stevenson,
Tufts and Washington College. That is elite company for any
program, never mind one located in the Chicago suburbs and is just
now entering its fifth year of existence.
The leader in assists in all of Division III during the ’13
Is a third consecutive trip in the cards?
“The expectation to win the conference is there, and we have a
pretty good chance to do what we did last year,” said Kylor
Berkman, Aurora’s coach. “It’s always tough to say before you play
a game. Our offense looks better than any year previous, so we’re
excited about that. We definitely lost a couple of key pieces on
defense and we’ve got some young guys in pretty big roles, so it
will be interesting to see how they respond.”
The offense will once again be spearheaded by do-it-all senior
middie Max Obriecht. In his first three years, Olbriecht has racked
up 208 points (126g, 82a), while earning All-American accolades
last spring. In addition, he’s taken nearly 1,000 faceoffs in his
first three seasons, winning an astounding 66.4 percent of them
(639-for-963). Last year alone, he won 72 percent of his draws
(242-for-336) to go along with his 97 points.
Obriecht’s life will get a little easier with the return of
attackman Garret Rosiek. Rosiek blew out his knew entering his
senior season last year, but he’s now taking graduate courses and
using his final year of eligibility. In his last healthy campaign
in 2013, he led the nation in assists with 68. Combined with
Obriecht, that’s a formidable one-two punch.
“We’re excited to have him back,” Berkman said. “It’s a strong
offense this year with five of the six guys starting on offense
While the defense has several holes, including in the net,
Aurora’s quest for another NCAA tournament has been aided by the
conference reshuffling. With the formation of the CCIW and the Ohio
River Lacrosse Conference, the MLC has lost several of Aurora’s
bigger hurdles to a title, with Carthage being the most dangerous
departure. Concordia (Wis.), which finished in second behind the
Spartans in ’14, remains as an obstacle, but the ability to
schedule more non-league games will be useful.
“We know we have a good chance of winning the conference every
year, but we’re not playing 10 or 11 conference games now,” Berkman
said. “It gives us an opportunity to set up a challenging
non-conference schedule that will help us in the NCAAs.”
The first challenge comes on Friday, when Aurora entertains
Illinois Wesleyan, a member of the new CCIW league. Despite being a
second year program, the Titans have Berkman’s attention.
“When they started their program I knew they were going to get
good pretty quickly,” he said. “It’s not a game we’re looking over.
You only get one chance to make a good first impression, so we want
to come out firing on all cylinders. We’re going to find something
out about ourselves.”
Despite a solid non-conference schedule that includes Adrian,
Eastern, Carthage, Whittier and Denison, it will be the Midwest
Lacrosse Conference that holds Aurora’s ticket to a third bid to
the NCAA tournament. But having a good performance in all of the
contests will help the Spartans achieve a different goal.
“We’ve got to go out and prove we are just as good as we were
last year,” Berkman said. “We want to show the rest of the world
that the Midwest has some pretty good lacrosse to offer.”