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Westminster lacrosse turns season around, stuns BYU

SALT LAKE CITY — If any Utah sports team has been more intriguing to follow this year than Westminster College men’s lacrosse, we may have not yet found it.

The Griffins ousted fifth-ranked BYU on Saturday for the first time in school history and clinched a share of the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse Conference’s regular-season title. This is no small feat for anyone, much less a team that was widely disregarded just two weeks ago.

“In the last two weeks, our team has turned a corner,” said Westminster coach Mason Goodhand. “Prior to that, people had written us off. … They said, ‘Westminster doesn’t have it this year.’”

Westminster entered the season with lofty expectations, but back-to-back losses in March hurt the team’s ranking and reputation. Goodhand and his staff helped the team make a huge turnaround, and it all started with the players taking accountability for their decline.

“We have a very simple saying: When things don’t turn out the way you want, don’t use your fingers to point at who’s going to fix it — use your thumbs (and point at yourself),” he said. “We preached that pretty hard when we lost a couple games early in the season. We asked guys to figure out what they could do, and it’s shown."

Goodhand and his team have proved the critics wrong — and then some. After stumbling into conference play with a modest 3-3 record, the Griffins rattled off four straight victories against Utah, Colorado, Colorado State and BYU.

“We played three really good teams back-to-back-to-back, and a grand total of five goals separated us,” said Goodhand. “We are very close in this conference, and today was our day to step up and make it happen.”

No game this season may have been closer for the Griffins than Saturday's victory over the Cougars. There were eight ties and six lead changes, all leading up to the final minutes when the Griffins pulled ahead by two goals. BYU answered with one of its own, but couldn’t come up with another to send the game to overtime.

Statistically, the Griffins were outplayed in nearly every category, but still found a way to scratch out a victory.

“The game isn’t played on the stat sheet. When the whistle blows, it’s about who makes a play at the right time when you need it most,” Goodhand said. “You saw a lot of plays like that today that don’t show up on the stat sheet.”

Saturday's game was a big step towards making lacrosse a more recognizable and enjoyable sport in Utah. More entertaining games like this, Goodhand believes, will help turn lacrosse into a “mainstream” sport.

“Lacrosse is an entertaining sport, regardless of what level,” he said. “What you saw today was a standing-room only crowd hanging on every play, and that’s what lacrosse is all about when it’s played well. And it’s being played well by a lot of teams, two of which are in Utah. The product that we presented today helps people see the beauty of this sport.“

Goodhand and the folks at Westminster College dream of making lacrosse a big-time attraction in Salt Lake City and the state, and it all starts with helping people understand that it’s a fun, entertaining game. Lacrosse started to gain visibility in Utah over a decade ago, but it's only going to continue to grow with success from Westminster, BYU and the other in-state teams.

“Our former president (at Westminster, Michael Bassis) had the vision of what we could do in Salt Lake City with this sport. … Today was the first realization that this team is entertaining, and when the teams on the field are playing at that skill level, it is very exciting to watch," Goodhand said. "It’s a game that’s taken the state slowly, one step at a time, and hopefully we can be a part of making it more mainstream.

“For sure, it was a good day.”

Contact Samuel Benson at bensonsamb@gmail.com