BY JAKE FELDMAN
Daily Sports Writer
Published May 19, 2009
The perfect season — it’s something that every team strives for and few teams ever achieve. Let alone twice.
But after beating Chapman University 12-11 in Denver last weekend for the MCLA National Championship, the Michigan club lacrosse team achieved perfection for the second straight year. The team's winning streak has extended over 40 consecutive games en route to back-to-back national titles.
It hasn't always been easy. Saturday night, Michigan (20-0) quickly fell behind 3-0 in a rematch of last year's finals with Chapman University (16-3). Chapman midfielders seemed to be winning every faceoff and cleared the ball with ease, while the Wolverines failed to simply establish a sustained possession.
“In games like these, possession is everything,” Michigan coach John Paul said. “When you have two high-powered offenses, the team that gets more possessions is probably going to win the game. And we were losing the possession battle early.”
The Wolverines trailed by five goals with 6:44 remaining in the second quarter, their largest deficit of the season. The team hadn’t faced such a hole since a regular season game in February against this same Chapman squad, a game that Michigan ultimately won 13-10 thanks to an inspiring second half.
And much like the first meeting, Paul switched to a zone defense in the second quarter to change the course of the game.
“We switched to the zone to get things slowed down a little bit,” Paul said. “It’s not really the style we like to play, and that’s why we were reluctant to go to it, even though it has proven that it worked against them. This is the only team all year that we’ve used it against.”
The zone forced Chapman midfielders into more outside shots, preventing them from slashing through the defense toward the cage. Junior attackman Kevin Zorovich kept the Wolverines within striking distance with three first-half goals, but Michigan still trailed 8-4 at halftime.
Paul encouraged his team to approach the second half as a series of five-minute segments in an attempt to ease the stress of overcoming a large deficit.
And the Wolverines responded decisively.
Michigan finally began to win faceoffs and netted two quick goals to cut Chapman’s lead in half. Junior midfielder David Rogers then took over, notching three of the Wolverines' next four goals to tie the game 10-10. On two identical plays, Rogers rolled into the middle and buried left-handed shots past Panther goalie Daniel Kirkpatrick. Michigan added two more fourth-quarter goals to take the lead and never looked back.
Rogers' performance was a sharp contrast to his regular season play. The midfielder ended the regular season with only six goals and a shooting percentage under 15 percent. But he shined in the postseason, scoring nine goals in six games including a hat trick in the National Championship.
“He is a clutch scorer and a leader,” sophomore goalie Andrew Fowler said. “And what leaders do, what good players do, is they find a way to produce when it matters.”
By his own standards, Fowler also came through in the clutch. The Wolverines were scoreless for the last nine minutes of the game, relying heavily on Fowler and the defense to preserve the lead.
Paul admits that he considered benching Fowler after the lackluster first half, but ultimately stuck with the confident netminder. Fowler vindicated Paul’s decision, saving 12 of 15 shots in the final two periods.
“There’s no chance for mental breakdowns,” Fowler said. “And my job as a goalie is I have to be talking to the defense. If I have a level head and I know that I can guide the defense, it makes my job a lot easier.”
To say that the Wolverines have established themselves as a dynasty is an understatement. After two undefeated seasons in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, the Wolverines are waiting for the Athletic Department to acquire the funding necessary to make lacrosse a varsity sport at Michigan. The program grows stronger each year, and the players are ready to make the transition.
“I think we can compete right away,” Rogers said. “I don’t think we need a bunch of recruiting classes before we can be competitive. I think the team we had this year could be competitive at the Division I level.”