The West Virginia lacrosse team received more votes in the MCLA Coaches Poll as they split their weekend against No. 7 Virginia Tech and NC State.

Former midfielder Nick Kyak pursues the goal during a lacrosse game last year.

Former midfielder Nick Kyak pursues the goal during a lacrosse game last year.

Friday’s close loss to the arch-rival Hokies ended up being the most impressive of the weekend, losing by a score of 9-7. While that might seem like a pretty standard loss in lacrosse, it is quite the turnaround in one season as WVU fell to Virginia Tech 20-4 in 2018.

WVU head coach Brian Houk points out defensive play as one of the major factors in the Mountaineers’ success so far this season.

“Defensive coordinator Kevin McDonnell had the defense well prepared and he called the VT game brilliantly,” Houk said, “We had a stout zone defense he installed that worked to perfection [on Friday].”

Offensively, the Mountaineers were led by Matt Paul, who had four goals in the loss to Virginia Tech.

All in all, Houk believes this puts WVU that much closer to the “play for 60” mentality he’s tried to instill since becoming head coach in 2018.

“We had a phenomenal effort for 55 minutes against VT, but fell short because of just a few mistakes,” Houk said. “Our offense is loaded with talent and has shown they can score the ball frequently and with a variety of players, but we often fall off in the second half, so we need to improve our play in the third and fourth quarter. We have a lot of great offensive minds and sound leadership on offense, so I am confident we will keep moving in the right direction.”

The same theme stood true in the Mountaineers’ Saturday game against NC State, but it was too little too late for the Wolfpack as WVU picked up the 11-8 win.

NC State outscored West Virginia 5-3 in the second half, but the Mountaineers still did what they needed to do to receive some more national recognition in the club lacrosse circuit.

WVU received seven additional votes in the MCLA Coaches Poll, to get to 16 (up from nine). With the votes, they are the de facto 35th-ranked team in the country.

Statistics have helped the Mountaineers in the computer rankings. WVU has allowed an average of only 6.6 goals per game, the lowest in the Southeastern Lacrosse Conference. That has boosted West Virginia to a No. 12 national ranking in MCLA’s Redd Rankings (the lacrosse equivalent to the RPI).

It’s nice seeing the votes because it shows that we’ve started to earn respect around the league,” Houk said. “Our early success has helped foster buy in to the culture that the coaching staff, captains and I have been working hard to create, and our athletes are more motivated than ever to keep on climbing. It’s been a ‘shock the world’ mentality that has really been driving us.”

For lacrosse general manager Jim Mills, the national recognition is the cherry on top of the foundation that he’s always wanted to see for the WVU lacrosse program.

“Our goal is to compete for championships and develop a virtual varsity program,” Mills said. “The kids have (finally) bought in to what we are trying to accomplish, and they have worked very hard to achieve the success we are realizing since the last week of August.”

The Mountaineers will play their first home game on Sunday as they take on Western Michigan at the Rec Center Fields. Face off will be at 11 a.m.