Just one year ago, the Michigan men’s lacrosse team essentially fielded an all-freshman squad — maybe not according to their transcripts, but on the turf, they were all equal.
Prior to last year, men’s lacrosse was only a club sport at Michigan. The team made history this year, as new members of the Eastern College Athletic Conference, and unlike last year, this season’s games count toward conference competition. In Michigan’s first year as a Division I team, its record was a dismal 1-13. “Team Two” is poised to lay the foundation for a competitive program, especially in its first-ever conference game against Bellarmine on Saturday.
Redshirt senior defender and captain J.D. Johnson explained that last year’s squad was focused on building the framework for a strong team so that it could compete when matched up against elite teams in the conference.
“(Team One’s) purpose was to figure out what kind of culture we wanted to have,” Johnson said. “What makes this year so much different is, by going through the process of figuring out what defines Michigan lacrosse’s culture, we figured out what works and what doesn’t. This year, we have the right people and attitude to turn this program into a winning program.
“While I don’t think our goal is to win a championship this year, two or three years down the road, it’s not such an outlandish goal to strive for. The culture is what makes this year so much different.”
Four seniors, including Johnson, serve as captains this year with the daunting task of leading an extremely young team. Of the 42 players on the roster, 18 are freshmen, making Michigan the eighth-youngest team in the country. Despite the team’s youth, Johnson and fellow captain Sean Sutton are working hard to make the team feel unified — and talent like freshman midfielder Kyle Jackson and freshman goalie Gerald Logan make their job easier.
“You know, being that our team is young, we have to completely disregard class line,” Johnson said. “If we start doing that, then we alienate freshmen from the rest of the team.”
Though the title of captain comes with more work and higher expectations, both Sutton and Johnson welcome that responsibility, especially as this team makes history.
“Being named captain for the second season in row is an extreme honor, especially being named captain of (Michigan’s) first Division I lacrosse team,” Sutton said. “I’m proud to say I’m starting, or at least helping to start, a program at such a prestigious school.”
Johnson echoed this feeling of pride for both his teammates but also the University. Both players are looking to raise the bar in terms of expectations and performance and to start competing with the likes of Johns Hopkins and Ohio State — two of the elite programs in the country.
“What that means is setting a higher standard,” Johnson said. “It means that this year losing to North Carolina 19-5 isn’t acceptable, in any realm. As a leader, I am setting a very high bar for myself and holding my teammates to that standard.”
Looking ahead at their second game and beyond, the Wolverines are prepared and poised to be a strong opponent. This weekend, they take on Bellarmine in Louisville, Kent. Michigan lost to the Knights, 13-9, last year in the Big House.
“We’re really confident going into this game,” Sutton said. “We’ve scrimmaged them every year since I’ve been here, and we know they’re a good team. We’re going to prepare well, and we know we’re going to have to control the tempo, but we know what they like to do.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misattributed the following quote to Sutton: “You know, being that our team is young, we have to completely disregard class line. If we start doing that, then we alienate freshmen from the rest of the team.”