WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. ––– Palm Beach Atlantic head coach Chris Southard announced his team’s 2015 season schedule today, featuring six teams ranked in the final 2014 MCLA Division II Coaches Poll.
“This year’s schedule will be a test for our program,” said Coach Southard, entering his thirteenth season with PBA. “It’s the toughest schedule we’ve ever created, and we’re doing most of the heavy lifting on the road.”
Sailfish fans have to go all the way back to 2009 to find a year where their men’s lacrosse team was on the road as much as they are in 2015. That was Palm Beach Atlantic’s second year in the SELC’s Division II. This year’s team finds itself away from home eight times, a program record.
“Our expectation is that this year’s team plays better lacrosse earlier in the season. We want to use tough road environments to prepare us for Atlanta and California,” said Southard.
Southard means the SELC and MCLA Tournaments; two tournaments for which last year’s team––––that was ranked as highly as No. 10 nationally––––didn’t qualify.
A Warm Welcome And An Old Foe
Palm Beach Atlantic opens the 2015 regular season at home on Sat., Jan. 31 against Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The Eagles (Daytona Beach, Fla.) and Sailfish are both provisional members of the Sunshine State Conference and will add NCAA Division 2 lacrosse programs in the 2016-2017 academic year.
This isn’t the first time that Palm Beach Atlantic and Embry-Riddle have met, however. Dating back to the Florida Lacrosse League (a precursor to the SELC for many Florida colleges and universities), the ‘Fish and Eagles were heated rivals that competed for many FLL championships. Their last meeting came in 2007, when Embry-Riddle clinched the FLL championship on PBA’s home turf.
Excitedly, that home turf has changed. For the first time ever, Palm Beach Atlantic will host a home game on its own campus. That campus is the Rinker Athletic Campus, or “The RAC”, a multi-million dollar undertaking which is finally ready for play. Game time for the home opening celebration against Embry-Riddle is 7:00 p.m.
PBA will also host a non-divisional matchup against Florida Atlantic on Wed., Feb. 4 at 7:00 p.m., with the divisional matchup in April.
Preparation Begins Early
The quest for a championship ratchets up the intensity one week later, as Palm Beach Atlantic travels to Georgia for one of the toughest opponents on their 2015 schedule. On Sun., Feb. 8, the ‘Fish will play the No. 3-ranked Dayton Flyers. Dayton carried the No. 1 overall ranking in Division 2 for five weeks last season. They also advanced to the Final Four before losing to St. John’s. The game will take place at the SCAD Athletic Complex (Hardeeville, S.C.) with a 12:00 p.m. start time.
PBA will also play Lynn University (NCAA-II) at home on February 21 (7:00 p.m.). Last season, the Sailfish won their first-ever meeting, 8-7.
Rounding out the month of February, Palm Beach Atlantic will travel to the University of Miami. The ‘Fish have won the last three meetings in the local rivalry.
Hitting The Road
In place of the Sailfish Shootout, this year’s Palm Beach Atlantic team is heading to North Carolina for a spring break slate of games.
The first game is a rematch of one of last year’s most entertaining games, as PBA and Grove City College meet once again. In 2014, the Wolverines jumped out to an 11-3 lead before the ‘Fish roared back, coming within one goal of then-No. 3 GCC. That Grove City team received a No. 6 ranking in the final poll of 2014. This year’s teams will meet at Elon University on Sat., Mar. 7 for a 7:00 p.m. game.
On Mon., Mar. 9, Palm Beach Atlantic and Lourdes University will battle for the first time. The Gray Wolves were ranked No. 13 at the peak of their 2014 season and are seeking a return to that stature. Gametime is set for 5:00 p.m., also at Elon. Later that week, the ‘Fish wrap up their stay in North Carolina against the host––––Elon University (Wed., 7:00 p.m.). The Sailfish and Phoenix have never met previously.
On Thurs., Mar. 12, PBA grabs its first SELC South divisional game against Georgia Southern University (5:00 p.m.). The ‘Fish defeated GSU 17-13 last season and have won six of seven meetings.
The Final Stretch
After returning to the beach for home games against Point (Sat., Mar. 21, 7:00 p.m.) and Florida International (Sat. Mar. 28, 7:00 p.m.), PBA will set their eyes upon the last month of the regular season. Lindenwood–Belleville is back in West Palm Beach for a game against the ‘Fish on Wed., April 1. The Lynx (out of Belleville, Ill.) competed in the Sailfish Shootout last season; PBA won 13-12.
Palm Beach Atlantic travels to Florida Atlantic University for a divisional game on Sat., April 4. The Owls are first-year members of the SELC, joining the South Region. PBA has never lost against FAU (4-0).
On Saturday, April 11, No. 12 SCAD comes to town. The Bees won last year’s meeting against the Sailfish, 14-12, and are looking to win again this season. They’ve won six of seven meetings against Palm Beach Atlantic in their series history.
The Fight for Florida State Road 80
On Sat., April 18 (7:00 p.m.), PBA battles No. 9 Florida Gulf Coast University in the Fight for Florida State Road 80. The two schools, separated by 70 miles of SR 80 linking the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida, have turned a pivotal conference game into one of the nation’s premiere rivalries.
Last season, Palm Beach Atlantic hosted FGCU on senior night, in front of more than 500 raucous fans. In an odd game that saw PBA’s two highest scorers (Nick Scalzo and John Linnan) fall with season-ending injuries, the flustered Sailfish were unable to muster a rebuttal and the Eagles finished on top, 10-7. This year’s meeting shifts back to Fort Myers, Fla., but the home field advantage might be considered a disadvantage––––the road team has won the past three meetings. In 2013, PBA used a potent offensive attack to outlast the Eagles, 18-13.
The Sailfish have won four out of six overall meetings in the series.
The 2015 Southeastern Lacrosse Conference tournament will be held in Johns Creek, Georgia on April 24-26, with day two and three matchups to be held at Northview High School. The MCLA National Tournament is set for May 11-16, 2015 in Orange County, California. The first two rounds will be played on the campus of UC-Irvine, while the semifinals and finals will be played at Chapman University.