Trevor Yealey Michigan Lacrosse
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Michigan Lacrosse: The Difference One Year Can Make

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!