Sometimes having the best season in program history may lead to a feeling of complacency — satisfaction in a day’s work.
Not for the Michigan women’s lacrosse team. After a 2019 campaign that saw a shattered record in the win column and first NCAA Tournament bid, the team is approaching 2020 with the ambition to build on what it did last year.
“I think the team has returned with even more hunger than we had last year,” Michigan coach Hannah Nielsen said. “And they know and have that belief from last year of what we can accomplish.”
It’s pretty easy to transition to a new season when there aren’t a lot of questions surrounding the team. And when you return eight starters who contributed to 77 percent of your team’s points, there really aren’t a lot of questions to be asked.
One of those starters, junior attacker Caitlin Muir, broke both the program single-season goals and assists records last year with 59 and 21, respectively. This returning offense means the team can spend less time adjusting to new additions and simply carry the momentum from last year.
The list of returning starters also includes all three of the Wolverines’ captains — senior defenseman Maggie Handlan, senior goalie Alli Kothari and senior midfielder Molly Garrett.
“Being a captain last year was a very big honor just as it is this year, too,” Garrett said. “And I think having that experience and a year under my belt especially with Allie and Maggie, who are also returning captains makes us stronger, more experienced and have that knowledge of how we should handle things.”
This knowledge will help a lot with the transition for the younger players — either from high school to college games or from a less prominent role to carrying more of the load.
Nielsen also thought there were a lot of younger players who were ready to step into more prominent roles this season.
“(Sophomore midfielder) Kaitlyn Mead is one that I think,” Nielsen said. “Just her body size and her strength and her athletic ability alone, she’s capable of so much and is improving with the game-sense side as well.”
Nielsen seemed optimistic about many of the other young players as well, and thinks by the end of the season a lot of them should be able to contribute even more.
These players, in combination with all of the returning starters, have the chance to shoot even higher than they did last year. Though, there is still one thing that stands in their way.
The Big Ten has been ruled lately by two national powers: Northwestern and defending national champion Maryland. All three of the Wolverines’ conference losses last season were to these teams.
“We certainly want to be competing with Maryland and Northwestern, who have been the top dogs in the conference for the last five years,” Nielsen said. “It seems so with how we’ve been performing, I think it’s a possibility.”
Last season, the Wildcats ended Michigan’s conference title hopes with a 19-9 victory in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal. This is the type of game that the Wolverines hope to not only compete in this year, but win.
The Terrapins, though, are a whole different animal. The defending national champions dominated Michigan, 14-3, in College Park last season.
“Obviously, we want to be competing at the top,” Nielsen said. “We got our minds set on going one further and making that Big Ten Championship game.”