Wolverines take on Fairfield in annual Battle at the Big House

James Coller/Daily
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By Minh Doan, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 3, 2014

While the fanfare of the football spring game might dominate the headlines Saturday, the Michigan men’s lacrosse team will also play at Michigan Stadium in its annual Battle at the Big House.

The Wolverines (1-1 Eastern College Athletic League, 4-7 overall) will continue a tradition that started with their first year when they play conference opponent No. 15 Fairfield (1-0, 8-2) after the spring game concludes.

“When we first added varsity lacrosse, the game was something Dave Brandon and I talked about, a chance to showcase a new sport at Michigan,” said Michigan coach John Paul. “It was an opportunity to have fans who weren’t really familiar with lacrosse to get some exposure.”

A lacrosse team following its football team’s spring game isn’t a new concept, though.

Ohio State has been playing in its version of the annual game — the “Showdown at the Shoe” — for the past four years, since the program’s inaugural season. The success of that game is what drove Michigan to institute the tradition of its own.

“Ohio State’s been very successful with their game,” Paul said. “They actually set the (national on-campus and regular season) attendance record a few years ago.”

The last two years, the game had an added bonus for fans as Michigan played its rivals, the Buckeyes. This season, the schedule forced the game to be played against Fairfield. Next week, Michigan will travel down to Ohio State to play in the Showdown at the Shoe.

For lacrosse, a sport still trying to gain popularity at Michigan, the timing is all about bringing awareness to the game. Paul hopes it gives the crowd watching the spring football game a chance to watch lacrosse for possibly the first time ever.

“(The game is) an opportunity for Michigan fans who don’t know lacrosse or who don’t come into town for a big football event to stick around and learn a little bit about our team,” Paul said.

But with the added fanfare of the upcoming game, the Wolverines are preparing like they do for any other game.

After falling behind early last week against Air Force en route to its third straight loss, Michigan simplified its strategy early on in the game.

“This week has been about making sure we’re 100 percent ready to go,” Paul said. “We’ve simplified the strategy so the guys don’t have to make as many decisions early in the game and just play lacrosse.”

While Michigan is on a losing streak, the Stags carry a six-game winning streak, including wins over No. 12 Massachusetts and No. 14 Yale.

“Fairfield doesn’t do a whole lot that’s flashy,” Paul said. “They’re not going to wow you like some of the other top programs. They’re very consistent and solid at both ends of the field. They don’t make a lot of execution mistakes, and they shoot very, very well.”

But in the midst of the Stags’ consistency, Paul thinks the Wolverines have the advantage with sophomore faceoff man Brad Lott.

“I think we could have a little bit of an advantage facing off,” Paul said. “If we can get more possessions than them and match their offensive efficiency, we’re going to be in a very good position.”

With the spring game and the pomp that comes along with it, there could be a lot of distraction on Saturday with arguably the best team in the conference coming to town.

But Michigan isn’t worried about the football team. It has a lacrosse game to play.

“We’re just preparing for the next game, and the setting is what it is,” Paul said. “This is an important ECAC game, and we have to make sure that we have an opportunity out there for us.”