UPDATE: Due to popular demand, there WILL be a CoverItLive chat for tonight's game. Find it here.
With a 16-11 victory over rival BYU, the Michigan Wolverines have advanced to the semifinals of the MCLA National Tournament, where they'll face the #4 seed Chapman Panthers.
The game against BYU started with the Cougars controlling the run of play early, though they were unable to earn a substantial lead. Midway through the first and into the second, Michigan's faceoff specialist David Reinhard took over the game, winning several consecutive faceoffs (some of them procedure violations against BYU) and giving Michigan the vast majority of possessions. That led to a 9-5 halftime lead for the Wolverines.
[ed: Thrilling conclusion + Chapman preview after the jump.]
BYU wouldn't go down without a fight, however, as they scored a pair of quick goals in the third quarter to draw within two. The teams traded goals through the early 4th quarter, until BYU netted a couple in a row, bringing the game within a 1-goal margin. That was as close as they'd get, however, as Michigan rebuilt the lead to 14-10 before the Cougars could score again, and Michigan closed out with game-sealing goals from Trevor Yealy and Clark McIntyre.
Yealy regained his Player-of-the-Year form in this game, scoring seven goals for the Wolverines. Freshman Thomas Paras notched four goals of his own, along with a pair of assists. Five other Wolverines (David Reinhard, Anthony Hrusovsky, Josh Ein, Jordan Kirshner, and Clark McIntyre) scored a single goal. Reinhard won only 16 of 31 faceoffs, though as mentioned above, he scooped up several in a row to get momentum early in the game.
Andrew Fowler and Mark Stone once again split time in net, though Fowler didn't get the start as Coach Paul seemed to imply he would the other day. Stone played the first half and saved 69% of 16 shots faced, while Fowler's second half was more of a struggle, saving only 33% of 9 shots faced. It will be interesting to see if the platoon continues (especially considering each has outplayed the other at least once in recent games) or if the hot hand will continue to play.
BYU's Elliott Grow played most of the game, but he was out of the lineup at times with the shoulder injury he suffered yesterday, and seemed to be fighting through pain during the game.
Friday May 14, 7:30PM MDT, Dick's Sporting Goods Park (Main Stadium), Denver CO.
TV: Fox College Sports.
Record: 14-2 (5-0 Southwestern Lacrosse Conference).
Rankings: #4 MCLA LaxMag, #3 Prodigy, #4 LaxPower.
Common Opponents: BYU (W 12-11), Colorado (W 13-8), Oregon (L 11-14), Simon Fraser (W 11-8), Arizona State (L 11-12), Minnesota-Duluth (W 15-8)
Previous Meetings: 2008 National Championship Game (Michigan W 14-11), 2009 Regular Season (Michigan W 13-10), 2009 National Championship Game (Michigan W 12-11) Official Site Recap/VB Recap/VB Liveblog.
Depending on which poll you use, Chapman is the #4 (MCLA LaxMag/LaxPower) or #3 (Prodigy only) team in the country. As a testament to Michigan's strength of schedule, they're the only squad in the top 7 (LaxMag) or 9 (LaxPower/Prodigy), that Michigan hasn't faced yet this year. The men from SoCal went 14-2 on the year, with the only losses coming to Oregon (11-14 on the road) and Arizona State (11-12 in the SLC playoffs at Chapman).
The Panthers' unquestioned leader is senior attack Connor Martin, who (in addition to being an epic bro) led his team in scoring, brought home his conference's Offensive Player of the Year award, and is a big contender for the National Player of the Year award, for which he'd have to take down Trevor Yealy. Martin, like many non-Yealy offensive powerhouses, did a fair amount of scoring and assisting, leading his team in assists and coming in second in goals by a narrow margin.
Martin isn't the only top-notch player for Chapman, however. A pair of defensemen, juniors Spencer Halvorsen and Andrew Salcido, joined him on the First-Team All-Conference list, along with faceoff specialist Chris Small. The second-team all-SLC team consisted of a trio of Panthers. Sophomore attack Andrew Clayton led the team in goals per game, partially by virtue of having played one fewer than Martin, but only recorded half as many assists as Martin. Senior midfielder Blake Whitcomb (second on the team in assists and third in goals scored) and sophomore LSM Matt Walrath, the team's leader in ground balls, joined him.
This should be a great matchup for the fans. Two exceptional faceoff men will battle, with Michigan's David Reinhard out to make up for yesterday's weak (for his standards) performance. Two of the nation's best offensive players will take the field in Michigan's Yealy and Chapman's Martin, and this game is a rematch of the last two National Championship Games.
Unfortunately, I don't have a great feeling about this game. I do think Reinhard will rebound from yesterday, but Michigan doesn't have an offense as spread out as Chapman does, and the Panthers have the defensive personnel to stop Michigan's two main goal scorers (Yealy and Paras). The question is whether other players can step up offensively for Michigan. Clark McIntyre, Josh Ein, and Svet Tintchev will have to carry the scoring load more than they're used to in order for MIchigan to put up enough points for a win. One point of note is that Michigan won't be facing an all-conference goalie - a luxury they haven't had in quite some time. Of course, Michigan's situation in the cage is far from settled, so whoever has stronger goalie play in this game has a huge advantage.
With all the question marks heading into this game, I have a bad feeling about it. Still, it's hard for me to pick against the Wolverines, given the unprecedented run of success this team has accomplished. I do think this will be a close contest, played in the low double-digits. Trevor Yealy will be held mostly scoreless, but Clark McIntyre will step up for a few big goals when Michigan needs them, and Thomas Paras will finish second on the team in goals while leading in assists (shocking prediction, I know). Michigan will scrape by Chapman with a 14-13 victory - in overtime.
Don't forget, this game will air live on Fox College Sports at 9:30PM Eastern (7:30 local). You can figure out which channel that is, or if you even have it, here (HT: MGoShoe). If you don't have DirecTV, or subscribe to your cable provider's sports package, make plans to hit up your local drinking establishment tonight.
I finally got a pick wrong, as Simon Fraser continued their upset streak (if you can even call their first-round win over Florida State an upset), knocking off Colorado State by a 12-11 score. Should Michigan advance past Chapman, the winner of the Arizona State/Simon Fraser game would be the opponent in the National Championship Game.
With Simon Fraser advancing past Colorado State, I think Arizona State has a much-improved chance to reach the final. That's one hell of a story for a team that had its season canceled last year due to violation of university policy. I do indeed predict a Michigan/ASU final, and still think (hope?) that Michigan will win. Chapman is probably a tougher matchup than the Sun Devils, so if Michigan can get past the Panthers, I like their chances.
All the remaining teams in the tournament played their first-round games on Tuesday (no rain-outs) so nobody will have the advantage of an added day of rest.
I'm considering running a CoverItLive chat for tonight's game. If enough people vote in the comments that they want one, I'll let 'er rip, so get to commenting yea/nay.