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Tim Haslam, Utah Lacrosse News
Cougar players celebrate in a game at Westminster College on April 18, 2015.
It was fun to see how the team was coming together. —BYU Matt Schneck

PROVO — Nine months after taking an early exit from the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association’s national tournament, BYU hit the field for the start of a new season on Saturday.

This time, the eight-ranked Cougars didn’t disappoint — stifling Utah State, 31-3, in the Aggies’ first game as MCLA Division I members.

“It was fun to see how the team was coming together,” said Cougar head coach Matt Schneck. “They were having fun. They executed, which was really great. … I feel good about it, and I think they did a great job.”

While not an NCAA-supported program, BYU still fields a talented team yearly. This season, the Cougars boast one of the MCLA’s top long-stick midfielders in Max Neser, who was a first-team all-America selection last season.

LaxAllStars.com dubbed Neser as arguably the best LSM to ever play at BYU. Despite scoring only 16 total goals in 2015, Neser netted four on Saturday.

“There are a lot of great guys that have come before me (at BYU), and I want to just perform and play my best this season and see what happens,” said Neser. “I had a lot of open shots [against USU], so I took them, and they fell.”

Also on the star-studded roster are reigning All-Conference defensemen Harrison Wardle and Quentin Willey and goalie Matt Brandenburg. Emerging underclassmen Jack Fabrizio and Winston Farley headline the young-but-talented group of attackmen.

Fabrizio’s older brother, Mike, was a first-team All-American and the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2015. Jack, now a sophomore, relishes the opportunity to fill the role his brother left vacant.

“[Mike] was always the star, so now it’s fun to have my turn,” said Jack Fabrizio. “I wouldn’t say there’s much sibling competition, because I look up to my brother more than anything. The things he did during his career here were phenomenal and I try to pattern my play after him.”

But Jack Fabrizio isn’t the only sharp-shooter that this Cougar team has in its arsenal. While Fabrizio and Farley each had a hat trick against USU, they were only two of 16 Cougars that scored in the game.

Depth is something that Schneck has always emphasized, and this year’s group of Cougars appears to be as deep as any Schneck has assembled.

“We’ve got 45 guys on the roster, and with the exception of a few guys that are hurt, we played everyone [against Utah State],” said Schneck. “They started playing early on in the second half … and they didn’t let the intensity down.”

Undoubtedly, the schedule only gets tougher from here, as the Cougars have assembled one of the nation’s strongest slates. Upcoming games include matchups with preseason No. 1 Grand Canyon, No. 4 Chapman, No. 5 Arizona State, No. 9 San Diego State and No. 20 Simon Fraser.

The Rocky Mountain Lacrosse Conference looks to be extraordinarily strong as well. BYU travels to No. 2 Colorado and No. 10 Colorado State in the same weekend, and later faces Utah and Utah Valley. Although UVU is currently unranked, the Wolverines knocked off top-ranked Grand Canyon in its season-opener.

“The RMLC has more combined national championships than any other conference in the country, so we expect it to be tough every single year,” said Schneck. “We don’t expect anything different this year. We know it’s going to be a grind. We’re hoping that as the season progresses that we’ll be continually preparing ourselves, and when we hit our in-conference schedule toward the end of the year, we’re hoping that we’ll be peaking at the right time.”

The Cougars host UNLV on Saturday.

Contact Samuel at bensonsamb@gmail.com. Follow @sambbenson