Widely publicized as the biggest story in lacrosse last year, the season is complete and we need to do some serious scrutinizing of the Wolverines. With a 1-13 overall record it seems like we should change the “Team One” moniker to “Team One Win”. Put this team under the microscope however, and you can see beyond the numbers into a program that already has such a rich athletic tradition spanning over decades. Most “club teams” take a few years to build their rosters, do their homework for recruiting, triple check the funding, etc. Michigan went about it the right way; they had the means (money) and opportunity and instead of being afraid to pull the trigger they said “screw it, let’s just play now”.
Sports fans, whether they are simply fans of lacrosse or fans of Michigan, responded. Fans are fickle, passionate, and loyal, but above all they maintain that “right now” mentality. No one wants to wait 3 years to see a team hit the big stage and I think, on some level, the team and the athletic director realized that. They gave the people what they wanted to see and you don’t sport the largest stadium in college sports without knowing that you can fill all 109,000 seats. Of course the number of fans for the lacrosse team was a few shy of that, even for the rivalry game with Ohio State but give them credit where credit is due.
Upon closer inspection, that rivalry game actually lived up to its name. Instead of the blowout victory that I’m sure some Buckeye fans (and to be honest, myself as well) expected, we got a competitive game that the Wolverines only lost by 3. The week before, they dropped a game to Delaware by 4 and the week before that, the same score to Harvard. Box scores will show this Michigan team was just never really able to get going in the first half against these teams. The final score of the Loyola game (15-8) looks pretty convincing but looking at the second half, it was pretty evenly matched at 7-6 in favor of the Greyhounds. I think it’s safe to say that Michigan will do a little more than expected in 2013. I’m looking at quite a few of those close losses tilting more in their favor. It’s a firm belief of mine that you only get better by playing those who are better than you. They may not reach the Memorial Day marker that Denver was able to last year, but their success will definitely improve drastically.
Listening to a recent podcast with John Paul on Inside Lacrosse, he talks about the team’s struggles throughout the season but focuses more of the attention on the culture this team initiated. In my opinion, borrowing the “Team Number” model from the football program was a brilliant move on his part. I’ve experienced firsthand the rift that exists between club sports programs and their cousins on the NCAA side of things. Paul bridged that gap with a rather savvy political move and gave the players a deeper link to the school and its heritage.
So what does the success of the Michigan program mean on the larger scale? It shows the beginnings of the gap between NCAA Division 1 and MCLA teams narrowing. Personally, I’m encouraged by Michigan’s performance despite what their record may show. But remember this: Michigan didn’t win the MCLA title in 2011. They had close games and losses during their period of dominance the same as any program does. NCAA elitists will tell you that top-tier NCAA programs will never be touched up on their pedestal by any club program. To put the fires out before they start, I’m not predicting that Michigan is going to rout Johns Hopkins or Maryland next year, not by a long shot. I’m simply looking at the bigger picture in terms of what the future holds for an already powerful athletic program like Michigan’s; and the future looks bright.