After a season that displayed both skill and inconsistency, the Michigan women’s lacrosse team’s season ended with a loss to Northwestern in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
But despite a disappointing end to the regular season that fell short of the expectations many held after a strong start, the team saw drastic improvements from the prior season with accolades and record-setting player achievements.
And in the NCAA Tournament — after getting a bid that was by no means a guarantee — the Wolverines turned things around with an upset over Notre Dame and a strong fight against Northwestern that, despite resulting in a loss, showed that Michigan was able to right the ship and play dynamic lacrosse.
No group of players stood out more throughout the season than this year’s graduating class. On Senior Day, in their final game in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines recognized eight seniors and three fifth-years whose presence has been felt both on and off the field throughout their time in the program.
“They’re awesome (and) they mean so much to this team,” Michigan coach Hannah Nielsen said. “ … What they’ve given to this program and contributed from a cultural standpoint with their commitment, their work ethic, raising the standard of behavior and expectation here, (those are) the things that we’ll really remember and miss when they’re gone next year.”
In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, four players scored hat tricks — and three of them were seniors. As the team looked to break open a close game coming out of halftime, the seniors delivered, scoring all eight of Michigan’s second-half goals.
And that production extends past this year’s postseason accomplishments.
In addition to the leadership and camaraderie the seniors bring to the program, their on-field impact is critical. Fifth-year senior attacker Caitlin Muir — who returned to the program to try to turn things around after a 3-9 season last year — captained the team through her leadership and skill. Muir also led the team in assists and total points.
Twin sisters Kaitlyn and Hailey Mead — seniors who play midfielder and defender, respectively — found ways to position their team for success all season.
Kaitlyn dominated on the draw control with 70 wins on the season and contributed offensively as the team’s second-leading scorer with 28 goals; Hailey facilitated many of those wins in the draw circle as the draw taker and she also won 31 draw controls of her own.
“(Kaitlyn’s) a leader,” Nielsen said. “She’s a captain. She’s a person that people want to be around and Kaitlyn’s presence on and off the field will be really really missed. And Hailey, her sister, really found her strength in the draw. … I often joke with them, I’m like, ‘How do your parents feel?’ because I just feel proud when I see them out there together.”
But one of the absences that will be felt most — and certainly in the record books — is the player who won the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWCLA) defensive player of the week for her performance in the NCAA Tournament, graduate goalkeeper Arielle Weissman.
Weissman’s reliability in the cage all season highlighted her capabilities and provided clutch protection for her defense. She became just the third Wolverine in program history to be named a Tewaaraton nominee, an award given to the best collegiate lacrosse player in the country.
“I’m just so happy for her,” Nielsen said. “The effort that she puts in, the work that she puts in out of practice (and) the time that she spends to really perfect her craft — I’m just so happy that she’s seeing rewards for her effort.”
In the first round against Notre Dame, Weissman tallied a career-high 17 saves and ended the season with a .505 save percentage, sixth-best in the NCAA.
In addition to Weissman’s national recognition, five Michigan players were named to an All-Big Ten team — four of whom were members of the graduating class. Kaitlyn was selected to the first team while Weissman, senior attacker Kaley Thompson and senior defender Morgan Whitaker were all named to the second team. Thompson led the Wolverines with 32 goals and Whitaker anchored the defense with 33 ground ball pickups and 19 caused turnovers.
Weissman was also named to the IWCLA all-region first team and Kaitlyn was named to the second team. Both players were also awarded USA Lacrosse Magazine All-American honorable mentions.
But throughout a season filled with ups and downs, bright spots extended past the graduating class. In 2022, the younger players made significant strides throughout the season and showed that they are ready to step up. Under the leadership of their older teammates, players matured and grew into their roles.
Sophomore defender Maddie Burns was one of just two sophomores in the conference to be named to the All-Big Ten first team. Burns had 26 ground balls and 18 caused turnovers on the season. She also joined Kaitlyn and Weissman with a USA Lacrosse Magazine honorable mention and was named to the IWCLA all-region second team.
Freshman Jill Smith, who worked her way into the starting lineup over the course of the season while transitioning from midfielder to attacker, frequently brought a spark to her team in moments where it needed energy. Her leadership, skill and tenacity were on display in the tournament as she recorded hat tricks in both games and exemplified the promising future Michigan hopes to build upon.
Six underclassmen — three freshmen and three sophomores — had double-digit points on the season to complement the five graduating players who hit that same mark.
“The future is incredibly bright,” Nielsen said. “There were times during the year where we’ve got five freshmen on the field at once … and then another four or five sophomores at any given time. … So certainly looking forward for those players to mature more and more and end up being some of our leaders down the road.”
The gaps left by the graduating players are huge. And while their skill may not be replicated, the innate leadership they brought to this team leaves the underclassmen well-positioned to succeed.