First things first, for those that were unable to catch them in the liveblog...
I don't want to turn this into a cliche "they said Michigan couldn't threepeat, and nobody outside of Ann Arbor wanted them to win"-type column, but it's the truth. Those who participated in Friday's liveblog got to see the groundswell of hate for Michigan. Opposing players and fans (and probably even coaches) resent Michigan's success, and they resent the support Michigan's program gets. What they don't think about is that Michigan Lacrosse earned this success, and earned the support that they receive from donors.
So maybe Michigan didn't face the same type of adversity as most teams at the MCLA Championships, but the pressure to repeat and being on the wrong side of popular rooting interest were obstacles of their own. Regardless of why it happened, only one team could walk away with the honor of being called "Champion." That team is the Michigan Wolverines.
Arizona State drew first blood, but just like the semifinal game against Chapman, Svet Tintchev wasn't going to let his team get into too deep a hole. Trevor Yealy and Jamison Goldberg also netted first-quarter goals for the Wolverines to go along with another Tintchev tally, but Arizona State notched four of their own for the 5-4 lead.
The second quarter was the difference. From David Reinhard winning the opening faceoff, Michigan dominated time of possession. They did not allow ASU to successfully clear their end of the field until 6:30 had elapsed in the second. Anthony Hrusovsky and Yealy scored Michigan goals; the Sun Devils only managed three shots. Michigan carried a 6-5 lead and the momentum into the locker room.
Just 16 seconds into the second half, Arizona State's Ryan Westfall assisted his brother Tyler, and the game was knotted up once more. Michigan regained the lead on a Yealy tally a minute later. Thomas Paras pushed it to two goals early in the third. WIth just over five minutes left in the quarter, David Rogers fed Clark McIntyre in front of the goal, and McIntyre scored on a beautiful turn-and-shoot to close out the third quarter. Score: 9-7 Michigan.
Reinhard won the opening faceoff of the fourth quarter, and Yealy rewarded his effort by giving Michigan a three-goal lead less than a minute into the fourth. The teams traded possessions (with Michigan's being much longer) until Arizona State's Eric Nelson again closed the gap to two. On the ensuing faceoff, ASU's Ian Anderson scooped up the ground ball, and after a short possession, Ryan Westfall again fed his brother Tyler, and suddenly, the game wasn't so comfortable for the Wolverines.
Matt Asperheim brought the lead back to two with just under seven minutes to go, as the long-stick midfielder's bouncing shot was partially blocked by ASU goalie Dylan Westfall but dribbled between his legs and over the goal line. Though Arizona State won the ensuing faceoff, they were whistled for an offside infraction. Josh Ein fed Clark McIntyre on a quick restart with the Arizona State defense sleeping.
12-9 Wolverines, but the three-goal lead didn't mean game over. The Sun Devils responded a couple minutes later on the extra-man offense to draw within two. Ryan Westfall scored with just 0:08 remaining on the clock. The ensuing faceoff was probably the most important one ever taken by either Arizona State's Kris Saunders or Michigan's Reinhard (though Rhino's taken quite a few other big ones). Reinhard won the draw, and Harry Freid tried to launch the ball down the field to kill the remainder of the clock. The ball went out of bounds, however, and although the clock showed all zeroes the refs determined that 1.5 seconds should be returned to ASU at midfield. The Sun Devil Hail Mary was wide of the net.
Michigan wins 12-11. National Champs.
(Svet Tintchev and Josh Ein pictured at right being all "What up, three in a row" thanks to Mike Brand)
With three consecutive National Championships, and just one game lost in three years (Michigan is 58-1 from 2008-10), the natural question is "where do we go from here?" Michigan, to the ire of every other team, has outgrown the MCLA. The situation has become Michigan v. The Field every year. It's obvious that the Wolverines' coaching, program, and system have set a new standard for club lacrosse, that no one will challenge any time soon.
So does Michigan's Athletic Department finally give this program a chance to compete against the nation's best on the varsity level? There are developments within both Michigan lacrosse and NCAA Division 1 that make it almost a now-or-never proposition for the Wolverines to have a successful transition to the varsity ranks.
First is the fact that Michigan risks stagnating or even regressing if there's nowhere to go but down. If there was competition for the National Championship every year, or if the Wolverines weren't going undefeated (or nearly so) every season, it would be a different story. Michigan's hunger has driven them to success over the past three seasons. Once that hunger is gone, what might happen?
The other development is the growth of Division 1 lacrosse in places other than the East Coast. Ohio State, Penn State, and Notre Dame are all traditional Michigan rivals. All three play varsity lacrosse. Within the past couple years, Michigan's first D-1 varsity program started up at University of Detroit. The University of Denver hired legendary Princeton coach Bill Tierney, and it's only a matter of time before there's championship-level lacrosse being played in the Mountain Time Zone. The window of opportunity is there now.
Do I think it will happen soon? I sure hope so. Those in and around the program are hopeful as well. There won't be immediate national championships. There will probably be more failure than anyone associated with the program is used to experiencing. But that's how growth happens. To show your support for a varsity promotion for Michigan lacrosse, comment here on mgoblog, and visit their website at mgobluelacrosse.com.