One hundred ninety-five years, 138 Olympic medals, an alumni chapter on the moon and a President of the United States later, making University of Michigan history can seem like a daunting task. This Sunday, the Michigan men’s lacrosse team will find themselves doing just that.
The 2012 lacrosse season will mark the first in school history in which the Wolverines will compete at the Division-I level. The announcement that the team would make the jump to the varsity level from club status came last May, providing a rare opportunity for the student-athletes to pioneer a new chapter in Michigan history.
Michigan coach John Paul does not take this opportunity lightly. Pointing to head football coach Brady Hoke’s invocation of “Team 132,” he views this formative era for the lacrosse program as essential to building future success.
“We’ve embraced the whole Team One attitude here,” Paul said. “We’re calling ourselves Team One. I talk to the team about being Team One all the time. I thank coach Hoke for setting that precedent, and as important as it was for him to instill an understanding of tradition in his program, we need to understand the opportunity we have as Team One. There’s going to be a Team 132 in lacrosse one day, and they’re going to look back and remember the number of teams that have been through this.”
As a varsity team, the Wolverines will face much stiffer competition. In light of this, Paul is taking a long-term approach to coaching his team.
“We’ve made it our mission this year to build an elite Division-I culture,” Paul said. “And that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re winning every Division-I game, it means we’re building this culture that’s going to lay the foundation for what this program is going to become.”
Junior Sean Sutton expressed a similar sentiment about the turbulent transitional phase.
“We expect the competition to be a higher level, obviously,” he said. “But we’re going to do what we can control, and that’s getting better each and every day. We have no expectations of wins and losses right now. We’re just trying to work to get that culture established, and trying to set the culture that will bring us to a great program some day.”
Paul will need serious commitment from his players moving forward if the Wolverines hope to have success. The switch to Division I places new demands on his players.
Most of the players of the Michigan lacrosse team didn’t sign on to compete at a varsity level, coming to Michigan with the expectation of playing club lacrosse. Suddenly, thrust into Division I, their upcoming season includes many more responsibilities than they’re used to handling.
It remains to be seen whether these new responsibilities will be fulfilled moving forward. So far, Paul seems pleased with the team’s development. Last Saturday, Michigan participated in an exhibition match against Division-III Denison and came out with a 12-8 victory.
“We had a lot of young guys stepping up,” Paul said. “We had guys playing out of position that had to step up. From the perspective of guys stepping up in their roles today, I thought it went really well.”
Regardless of the team’s final record this year, the season will be a remarkable one due to its historic nature. For the players, this represents a dream come true.
“(Being a Division-I athlete) is surreal,” said fifth-year senior Trevor Yealy. “I would have never guessed it. When I started here, I would have never thought that I’d have the opportunity and the privilege to do this. It’s a privilege, it’s an honor, it’s exciting.”