When junior Alec Stirton was cut from Michigan’s club lacrosse team his freshman year, he was devastated. But he didn’t sit and sulk. Stirton knew plenty of other lacrosse players in the same position, so last year, he decided to start a team of his own.
Stirton’s dream began when four players showed up for a tryout on a middle-school field without lines or nets. Practices were held in the gymnasium of Ann Arbor’s Angell Middle School. In that first year, it was mostly a ragtag bunch of misfits who played pick-up lacrosse without scheduled practices or a set place to play.
Even though expectations were bleak, Stirton — the captain, founder and coach — knew there was nowhere to go but up.
“I reached out to the head coach of the (former) Michigan club team, John Paul, and met with him to gain some insight as to how to run a team and recruit players,” Stirton said. “He was extremely helpful in giving me a contact list of players that had tried out for the team and were cut, just like me.”
In its first season, the club team carried just a handful of substitutes and remained completely self coached. Regardless, it finished the 2011 season with an improbable record of 8-5 in the Great Lakes Lacrosse League, playing against teams from Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, Holy Cross and Northwestern.
The team emerged victorious over the Spartans twice and took fifth place in a league comprised of more than 30 teams, playing their home games on different local high-school fields, depending on availability.
This year, the program has grown considerably in size, with the roster filled to more than 50 players.
And this past Saturday night, the team played under the lights at Elbel Field in front of a crowd of enthusiastic fans that packed the bleachers. Even though Michigan lost to Hope College, the team saw the game as a victory in itself and a huge leap forward.
“(That) night was the biggest game our team has ever played,” Stirton said. “Hope College is an extremely talented squad, as they compete in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association.”
In its first true home game, Michigan brought the score to within one goal with only a minute left to play. In exciting fashion, the Wolverines made it a far closer game than anyone could have predicted.
On Sunday, Michigan lost to a tough Holy Cross squad — the top team in the division — by a score of 7-3. However, the Wolverines followed up their poor performance with a clean rout of Loyola, 10-0. Now sitting at second in their division, their final division games will be decided next weekend.
“The first home game was awesome. Having people to play for and having them encourage the team throughout was great,” said junior midfielder Jonathan Sherman. “This game is very useful going forward.”
The league championship will take place in Madison, Wisc. The team’s goal for the season is to win that championship.
One onlooker, LSA junior Holden Warriner, found the team’s progress remarkable.
“It is really awesome to see people doing what they love to do most and taking it as far as they can,” Warriner said. “That is the true meaning of effort.”