Michigan Lacrosse: The Difference One Year Can Make

Trevor Yealey Michigan Lacrosse
Michigan going D1 is HUGE news, even if they lose every game.
Joe Hrusovsky Michigan lacrosse
Joe Hrusovsky in 2011.

In October of 2010 Michigan was a dynastic MCLA team trying to win yet another National Championship.  While only one year has passed, Michigan is now preparing for their first-ever season as a varsity NCAA team, and while the personnel on the field, the coaches, and even their uniforms are the same, the goals have definitely changed.  Michigan is no longer looking to defend a title, or win every game on their schedule, and they are no longer the top dog.  The Wolverines aren’t starting from scratch, but they’re definitely near the bottom of the heap right now.  And honestly, this is exactly where they should be.

Let’s start with what Michigan’s situation really looks like.  Some of what I say might be seen as a knock on Michigan at first, but as you read on I think you’ll see that I’m just being honest.  And in the end, it might not be all bad!

Almost none of the players on Michigan’s roster were recruited as D1 players by Michigan.  Yes, a good number of the current players could have played on D1 teams, and some were recruited by D1 schools.  Yes, some of the guys on the team may have gone to Michigan with the HOPE of playing D1 ball before they graduated.  But most of them didn’t decide to head Michigan because of the chance for D1 lax.  The current players are almost all MCLA guys who were recruited as MCLA guys.  Some of the current freshman MIGHT have known what was up.  So while the current players are some of the best the MCLA has to offer, they simply aren’t all on the level of typical D1 recruits and players.

Trevor Yealy Michigan Lacrosse
Trevor Yealy is one the players closest to being a higher D1 caliber recruit.

All photos courtesy the University of Michigan Athletic Department

The second major component to really take a look at is the Coaching staff, which is led by John Paul. Coach Paul has really cut his teeth while at Michigan, and he’s been the one of the best in the MCLA year in and year out.  But prepping a D1 team and prepping an MCLA team just isn’t the same, and the responsibilities for the Head Coach have probably changed dramatically.   JP is used to coaching against MCLA coaches.  He’s accustomed to having his kids play against other MCLA programs.  And the step up to D1 lacrosse is a major one.  When the announcement that Michigan was going D1 was made, a ton of false rumors went flying and everyone from Petro to Cottle was named as a potential new Head Coach.

Basically, and in the most negative light, you have MCLA players and an MCLA coach stepping up to play with the big boys.  At first glance, it doesn’t look all that promising.  Most people just find it hard to believe that an MCLA coach could make the transition to the D1 level.  And it is a fair point to a certain extent.  But I think people had to look a little more closely at what John Paul has done there already before they automatically doubt his abilities to lead a true varsity program.

JP was the head coach for the MCLA team.  He’s been a MAJOR force behind their MCLA dominance and the program’s D1 ascension.  When it comes to growing a program, the man might be unrivaled in this day and age.  What he has done has been nothing short of amazing.  He was part of a growing entity in the MCLA, and not only did he find a way to win, but he also found a way to get noticed by his own school.  He was able to keep things positive, and always maintained an upward trajectory.  As the season wore on, a typical Michigan team improved, and when the next season came around, they were often better than the year before.  And this is EXACTLY the kind of skill set the Head Coach at Michigan will need to make it on the D1 level.

Of course not all of the current evidence supports what I’m saying…

Recently UMich took on Providence in the Big House, and they took on St. Joe’s at the Headstrong Nick Colleuri Classic.  They ended up losing both scrimmages, 11-10 to Providence, and 9-5 to St. Joe’s, and neither of those teams have historically been very competitive at the D1 level.  After both results I heard rumblings from people in the lacrosse world (who shall go un-named) that Michigan wasn’t ready.  Or that they were going to embarrass themselves in their inaugural season.

I find both sentiments to be ridiculous.

These scrimmages are literally the first official contact that Michigan has experienced as a D1 team.  Sure, they have held practices, intersquads, and all that good stuff, but stepping onto a field as a D1 team for the first time definitely has its challenges.  And honestly, I think Michigan passed the rests with flying colors.

No, they didn’t run these lower level D1 teams off the field.  Yes, they lost both games I’m going to talk about.  But they went out and they competed.  They gave the other teams nothing, and made them work for everything they got.  They played D1 lacrosse, and they looked like a D1 team.  And they did it all with the same players, and the same coach.

What we saw from Michigan in the MCLA was that they improved over the course of the year.  We saw that each year they came back stronger and more organized.  And I don’t think it will be any different in the NCAA ranks.  Michigan will be better in the Spring.  They will win a game or two or three, and people will really start talking.  They might also lose a game or two or three that gets people talking.  But they will be improving as well.  And next year, when they start bringing in legitimate D1 level recruits on a regular basis, we’ll see another jump.  And they’ll continue after that.  When next year’s freshman are seniors (in 2016), we could see another meteoric rise to even higher levels.

The mere fact that they were able to go out and compete in scrimmages with established D1 teams right away is a very good sign for the Wolverines.  And the product on the field in the spring should be considerably better, not only because Michigan will have had time to adjust, but also because it’s just what JP and this program do.  They get better all the time.

I believe it will take Michigan longer to climb the NCAA ladder, and it will be harder for them to be as big of a dynasty, but if the fall tells me anything about Michigan lacrosse it’s that the Wolverines are already a lower level D1 team, and if they hold true to history, they’re only going to be better in the spring.  The gauntlet has been thrown down in the form of fall scrimmage losses, and I expect Michigan to answer with vigor.

As a bonus, we’ll let you take a look for yourselves.  First up we have a great BHSVideoDad highlight from last year’s Michigan – Oregon game.  This is the last time these two schools will play, unless the Ducks add a varsity lacrosse program.  And below that, we have Michigan’s scrimmage with Providence.  Do these teams look the same to you?  To me, it looks like Michigan is already better than they were last year.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me have it in the comments!

MCLA game in 2011:

NCAA Scrimmage in the fall of 2011:

Also make sure to check out MCLAFan’s take on the Oregon – Michigan game!


  1. Makes you wonder what the critics would consider a success for Michigan this year. Are they expected to come in and be a middle of the pack team, or scraping the lower tier (as the scrimmage results indicate), or are they supposed to compete with the elite teams right away? Whatever happens, there’s no guarantee this ever happens again for an MCLA team so there will be a ton of scrutiny.

  2. The move at 1:00 and the goal at 2:13 of the providence scrimmage were absolutely nasty

    Also, I don’t support any Michigan team in any sport not wearing the traditional blue with maize claws/wings/stripes/whatever you want to call them.

  3. No team that makes the jump is immediately ready to be a very competitive D1 team, let alone a MCLA team. The MCLA is great, but they lack the depth that D1 teams have. There might be a few studs on a MCLA team that could start at the D1 level, but they don’t have a full team of D1 players. I have to say that although Michigan probably won’t be very competitive this year, they will be soon. 
    1. Amazing Academics2. Great Athletics/ Athletic tradition3. Great facilities4. I would assume a great night scene I would go there in a heartbeat. I would take out tons of student loans to go to Michigan. It’s a combination of everything a college athlete wants. The only thing it’s really lacking is that you probably won’t have a great chance playing on memorial day weekend right away. I don’t think it’s a question weather they were ready or not to make the jump to d1, every new team is going to go through growing pains. But Michigan has so much to offer that they’ll bring in alot of top prospects, and be a competitive d1 team in no time. 

  4. Michigan will be fine once they get some D1 recruits in. The school itself is a draw and I know they’ve gotten some top commits in the next 2 classes. 2012 will be a bumpy year if this fall is any indication of their success, come spring. In their 3 D1 scrimmages that they lost this fall, they were outscored 35-17 against teams that finished a combined 6-34 last year. I think Wolverine fans should be happy if they can grab a win or two.

  5. Don’t underestimate the impact that Judd Lattimore will have at Michigan.  JP went out and hired one of the best coaches in the game.  As their talent improves, and as the player learn to play at the D1 level, the team will get better.  I get the sense that JP’s greatest strengths are his abilities to run a program from top to bottom, and that includes having a great staff.  Also, he was innovative at the club level, and I would bet he will be at the D1 level too.

    Anyone who understands the difference between MCLA and D1 will also understand that this will take time.  They don’t have a single Michigan D1 recruit playing yet.  They don’t even have their own facilities yet.  I think it’s going to take 4 or 5 years just to get seriously competitive (top 25) and longer to challenge for a final four.

  6. Great story Connor and one that will continue to draw interest as the season goes by.  It is especially interesting because unlike some schools going varsity that abandon and deny their roots in the MCLA, Michigan carried over 25 players for this year.

    Question.  Did they look better in the second, Michigan produced video or in the first bhsvideodad video?  Every film has a point of view.  

  7. The Michigan approach of beginning with their top MCLA players and gradually introducing recruits will make a nice transition and it has a lot of integrity.  Contrast that with Marquette’s approach — bring in flashy coaching staff and recruit principally from the east coast — mostly ignoring the fact that the midwest is beginning to develop D1 talent.  Don’t build much local interest that way.

    • I disagree…take a look at their roster.
      They currently have 5 Illinois guys, 2 wisconsin guys, a minnesota guy, 4 michigan kids, 1 Ohio and 1 missouri kid.
      I wouldn’t really consider that ignoring midwest talent – it’s almost half of their roster. However, the fact is if they want to be competitive they need to recruit a lot of east coast kids. Midwest still isn’t at that point.

          • bsigmund is right.  Yealy only has one year left.  Your NCAA clock starts in D1 the day you take your first college class.

          • So could he play DII, DIII, or NJCAA? I joke to my self about walking on NJCAA for fun and to defer college loans, even though I exhausted my MCLA eligibility

          • You have 10 semesters to play 4 competitive seasons (8 semesters) in a sport at the Division 2/3 level. Your clock begins each time you enroll for a semester as a full time student

            Assuming you graduated on time (8 semesters), you still have 2 semesters (1 competitive season) left on your clock. HOWEVER, you must meet the NCAA’s one time transfer exception to get to an NCAA School.  You must be a grad student, full time, and be contiguous residency on campus (you go full time from school 1 directly to full time at school 2).  You cannot transfer from one NCAA D3/D2 program to another NCAA D3/D2 program using the one time transfer rule.  You can only use this to go D1 from another D1 school or from D3/D2 to D1. 

            the rules are nasty – see here with more clarification – http://forums.insidelacrosse.com/showthread.php?t=212284

  8. The M-Go Blue.com either needs a better camera or a better compression scheme for their Youtube videos.  The action sections pixelated out on full screen.  Otherwise a great video.  Maybe not so surprising to see some of the same “MCLA” guys like Yealy and Paras who scored against Oregon, score against Providence. 
    I hope we will see these reports through the season so we can all make our own conclusions on how the transition is going.

  9. I think a crucial part of the Michigan squad stands between the pipes.  I am not in any way criticizing the current Wolverine goalies, but as stated in the article, these are MCLA players, and these goalies are at a major disadvantage, in that they were not wholly prepared for the faster, harder, and more precise shooting that they will encounter this year at the D-1 level.  It will take time for them to adjust to the D-1 ranks, more so I feel than any other position on the field.  If Michigan can bring in a solid goalie class to build a defense around, they will be much more competitive early on.  

    • Look at their goalie commits for the next two years.  2012 Gerald Logan from Sachem and now PG year at Hotchkiss.  2013 Robbie Zonino from Conestoga.  I’d say they’ve taken the need to upgrade their goalies pretty seriously.

      But they need to upgrade everywhere if they are going to get competitive.  Recruiting is the key.

  10. My first reaction was to stand up for Michigan since they tend to over-achieve, but I just looked over laxpower and remembered how small and exclusive DI is. Providence, St. Joes, and Towson each had terrible records last year while playing mostly awesome teams- each playing about 5 ranked teams (Towson played 6). There’s no room in DI to win games while playing mediocre lacrosse, while the same can’t be said about the MCLA.

    I think the first couple games are going to show the difficulties of the jump and how much harder it is to score on DI defenses and goalies- especially the goalies. In Michigan’s defense, they kept the goals allowed around the 10 goal mark in 2 of the 3 games, and more importantly only let in 14 in the Towson game, as opposed to 20+. 

    I can’t wait to see their schedule, and I think that the culture of the UM program is going to be a tremendous asset through the learning experience. In that sense, these guys are ahead of where Mercer and Jacksonville started, and I have a feeling that they might get impressive attendance at their games, but I could be wrong. 

    • I’m also curious to see their schedule. If I’m not mistaken, they will play in the ECAC, so their competition should include Loyola, Denver, Ohio State, Air Force, Hobart, Fairfield, and Bellermine in conference. That’s no cupcake schedule and I fully expect that Michigan will get throttled by a couple of these teams. Towson definitely called off the dogs in their scrimmage. I was at the game and I’m pretty sure it was 7 or 8-0 after one abbreviated quarter.

  11. Beyond the talent, the biggest challenge will be game prep for JP. Good NCAA ball is a whole ‘nother world in terms of scouting, film study and game strategy. This won’t show up in the fall scrimmages, but will definitely manifest itself in the spring for better or worse. I don’t know JP as a coach so I can’t say whether he will sink or swim, but being an MCLA coach for as long as he has doesn’t give me a lot of confidence.

    • I agree that it will be a challenge, but I also think they will be fine.  Matt Holtz, who was in a completely different realm than JP as an MCLA coach, is doing pretty well as a D1 coach with very few resources.  Plus, Michigan hired an assistant with over 10 years of D1 experience in Lattimore.  I doubt Lattimore is going to suddenly forget how to prepare a team at the D1 level.  One of the things UM was known for in the MCLA was how prepared they were compared to most of their opponents.  Will they have to be more prepared to compete in D1?  Absolutely.  Can any good coach prep their team?  Of course.  JP and his staff will adjust. 

      More important is what guest alluded to above.  The biggest adjustment is recruiting.  It’s going to take them some time to build a D1 roster.

      • Disagree completely on the recruiting. Michigan has the advantage of being a superior academic school to either OSU or PSU, which should help them significantly in terms of recruiting. A more apt comparison than OSU or PSU for me would be Notre Dame, and they seem to be doing just fine.

        • That’s right.  Plus, Michigan is a national school (draws it’s student body from everywhere).  ND is also.  OSU and PSU are much more regional.  That, along with the academic reputation, matters in recruiting.

          From what I hear they are also going to build ridiculous facilities.  If they are head and shoulders above what anyone else is doing, then that will also make a difference.

          • Walk around any high school or summer camp in the Northeast and you will see all kinds of clothing sporting the Michigan Maize and Blue.  I believe I recently read that Michigan has more living alumni than any other school (with one of the largest out-of state contingents coming from the great lax state of New York). Laxers who grew up watching Michigan on Saturdays feel the pride.  I have met many Michigan alumni and not one has ever had a bad experience at the school.  Couple that with its nationally ranked academics and the fact that when Michigan athletics decides to do something, they never do it half-assed (how many new or old lacrosse programs are planning both indoor and outdoor state of the art lacrosse facilities) and you have a winning combination for awsome recruiting. I don’t believe anyone seriously thought that Big Blue would repeat its MCLA successes in the first few years of D1 but it is certainly very possible that within the decade we will see Michigan in the final 4.  Give J.P. some time. He has certainly earned it.  Let’s see what he can do after he has had the opportunity to get a few recruiting classes under his belt. 

  12. they are going to be like every other Big10 school that has a lacrosse team. you would expect them to be dominant and get tons of top top recruits due to the facilities and that nonsense, but they will be mediocre.. osu and psu for example.