The Michigan men’s lacrosse team starts its regular season with its longest road trip of the season – a 10-day, three-game trip to Arizona and Utah. And they leave today.

As the most successful club lacrosse program in the country over the last two seasons — with back-to-back national championships — the Wolverines can expect that teams like Arizona, No. 4 Arizona State and No. 5 Brigham Young will be out to knock Michigan off its pedestal.

The most anticipated game of the trip pits the top-ranked Wolverines against rival fifth-ranked Cougars.

Prior to Michigan’s run of dominance, the Cougars were considered the cream of the crop in men’s club lacrosse, winning three national championships in 10 seasons.

“It’s hard not to get more amped for (BYU),” senior captain Michael Bartomioli said. “You try and approach every game the same way, but when you’re playing a team like BYU, there has to be a little something extra on the table. Last year was my first year here, so that was my first taste of BYU, and the atmosphere was just crazy.”

And the rivalry has picked up in recent years. Before 2008, Michigan had lost its six consecutive games to the Cougars, including two postseason losses that ended the Wolverines’ 2003 and 2006 seasons.

But that has changed in the last two seasons. Michigan won both of its most recent contests against BYU and also returned a favor by knocking them out of the national tournament in the 2008 semifinals. This year, with many of Michigan’s freshmen playing their first games on this trip, crowd support could be a concern for the team.

“I think it is important (for the freshmen) to stay loose,” Bartomioli said. “A lot of these guys are going to be nervous – I remember when I was a freshman, I was nervous. I try to talk to them before the games, joke around with them and keep them a little bit loose.”

One key freshman for the Wolverines is attackman Thomas Paras. The Lakewood, Ohio native was an All-American in high school and is expected to be a big contributor on this year’s squad.

His skills were already on display in his first game at Michigan. After missing the first two scrimmages of the preseason due to injury, Paras returned in the third and final scrimmage and netted a hat trick. Saturday’s game against Arizona will be Paras’s first regular-season game as a Wolverine.

“We play scrimmages but you don’t know what it’s like until you get out there and see game speed, especially in the season,” Paras said.

Although BYU has consistently had great teams, Arizona State should not be overlooked, particulary because of its offensive talent.

“They have some special players,” Wolverines coach John Paul said. “Arizona State is loaded with offensive talent. When you’re playing teams like this, you do have to put a little more into individual matchups than some of the other teams we play.”

The game will be interesting since it will be the Sun Devils’ second game since coming back from a season-long suspension during 2009. School officials self-imposed the suspension after being made aware of a team incident involving underage drinking and hazing, according to Paul.

Seeing as Arizona State has not played since 2008, preparing a gameplan could become a bit of an issue. But Paul is not worried.

“We don’t deviate a whole lot from what we do every game,” Paul said. “The keys to our success are no secret – the keys to our success are riding and ground balls and a lot of the little things between the lines. Everybody deals with Xs and Os and how you play certain players. We still feel like as much as we do that we’re going to win by the things that we bring to every single game no matter who we’re playing.”

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