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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

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Improvement evident in women’s lacrosse finale against Buckeyes

By Zach Shaw, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 2, 2014

She knew it would be a long season, she knew there would be growing pains, she knew losses would be common.

But before Michigan women’s lacrosse coach Jennifer Ulehla led her team against No. 10 Ohio State for the second time in the program’s first season, she also knew her team would get better, if for no other reason than that the first matchup couldn’t get worse.

“The first time we played Ohio State, we didn’t play at all to our abilities,” Ulehla said. “There’s a lot of hype around Ohio State, and I think that got to us a little bit the first time. We were a different team then, and this time we knew what to expect and were able to execute our game plan more.

“This is a talented team, but the drive and heart from last night really show how much we’ve grown.”

After falling to the Buckeyes, 18-3, on April 2, the Wolverines were able to narrow the gap in the rematch. Despite falling in the first round of the American Lacrosse Conference Tournament, Michigan showed a culmination of progress and a peek at a positive future in a 12-8 defeat.

The game began much like Michigan’s season did — high on energy but low on results. After scoring just 38 seconds into the game, the Wolverines (0-6 ALC, 4-13 overall) fell behind 5-1 early and then 8-3 at halftime.

After the break, in what would likely be its last half of the season, Michigan was at its best, outscoring the Buckeyes (4-2, 13-5), 5-4. Two unassisted goals by freshman midfielder Kim Coughlan allowed the Wolverines — who won three of their final four regular season games — to end the season on a positive note.

“In the first half I saw nerves,” Ulehla said. “We were making a lot of mistakes, turning the ball over and not executing the way we wanted to, and a lot of that comes down to youth. But at halftime I asked them to calm down and focus on making adjustments. Ohio State is a really good team with a lot of depth, and I think they were expecting to face a different team than what we were in the second half.”

Michigan’s season will end here, as the team lacks the wins necessary for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The team will aspire for more success in the future, but for now, the close loss will set the tone for what looks to be a productive off-season.

“(Thursday’s loss) motivates them,” Ulehla said. “This team is starting to understand what it takes to compete at the national level, and at the end of the season, we started to put things together. We kept it close (Thursday), which means they were upset they didn’t win, but now they’re hungry to win at this level down the road.”

Still in infancy, Ulehla’s team will grow each year with another class of players. Though her championship expectations are set for 2016, Ulehla has high expectations for next year. She knows it will be a long season, she knows there will be growing pains, she knows losses may still be common, but Ulehla also knows next year is a crucial season for the Wolverines to continue to get better.

“We want to continue to build a championship culture here at Michigan,” Ulehla said. “Getting a second class of girls in here will give us a lot of depth and competition, and allow our leadership to grow. We’ll still be a young team and have a lot to learn, but I have high expectations for us to compete with everyone next year.”