The Michigan women’s lacrosse team faced off against No. 10 Penn State on Sunday afternoon in Michigan Stadium, but there was something different about the environment — the fans. The Big Ten matchup brought in a record-breaking attendance count of 902 spectators, and a large portion of those – about 350 — were young lacrosse players.
Starting early on Sunday morning, local girls’ youth teams had the opportunity to play against each other in Michigan Stadium before watching the Wolverines play Penn State on the very same turf.
“It was phenomenal to have that many young girls playing here,” said Michigan coach Jennifer Ulehla. “It’s great to see their excitement to want to come out and watch one of our games.”
Many Big Ten players hail from the East Coast, but that’s slowly starting to change. Currently, there are three players on the Wolverines’ roster from the state of Michigan — freshman Ariana Vespa, junior Emily Braun and junior captain Margaret Metzger.
“Where I’m from, we were just starting lacrosse when I was growing up,” Metzger said. “Now, to see girls this young starting is absolutely incredible. I think that’s something we take pride in here at Michigan, growing the game here in the state.”
Before the game, Ulehla had the opportunity to speak to some of the teams and give them a taste of Wolverine coaching wisdom.
“I talked a lot about building a program (to the youth players),” Ulehla said. “Just starting something from scratch, making it your own, and the mistakes that you make and how many times it takes to learn and grow. That’s where our program is. It’s team three. We’re in a much better place each and every day, and I just tried to inspire the kids a little bit.”
But it’s unclear whether Ulehla inspired the girls or if they were the ones who inspired her. At halftime — when the Wolverines were down 10-4 — two of the youth teams, Plymouth’s Triumph Lacrosse and the Hartland Eagles, took to the field to play a short game. When the Wolverines came out for the second half of the game, they earned three consecutive goals, bringing the score back within three points.
While Michigan wasn’t able to completely close that gap, it allowed the Nittany Lions just three more goals in the second half, ending the game, 13-8.
“I think one of the things we are most proud of is just our fight,” Metzger said. “We fought until the very end. This was a big matchup for us.”
The Wolverines’ young fans didn’t seem to mind the loss, and immediately lined up for autographs from the team after the game. Metzger, who hails from Bloomfield Hills, is one of those role models who has set an example for future lacrosse players in the area.
“I was the only one in my town to play Division I when I committed,” Metzger said. “And after me, there’s been three more I believe.”
Growing the game is very important to Ulehla and the rest of the coaching staff.
“We already have a couple (players from Michigan) lined up that are coming in,” Ulehla said. “We want to get the best ones out of Michigan. We don’t want to lose them to someone out of state. So we’re out with our eyes open and our connections out there trying to get the best talent in Michigan to the University of Michigan.”