Methodical Michigan Makes it a Three-peat
COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Sometimes beauty has to take a back
seat to brains.
It did on Saturday night, when Michigan used a cerebral approach – and perhaps a dull brand of lacrosse – to rein in the good looking Arizona State transition game and offense, allowing the Wolverines to squeeze out a 12-11 victory in the MCLA Division I national championship game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
“We wanted to possess and not give them a lot of transition opportunities,” said Michigan coach John Paul. “We felt comfortable playing six-on-six with them, but we wanted to be really careful on the offensive end so they were not coming right back down our throats.”
The methodical pace the Wolverines used may not have been the most fan-friendly, but there’s no questioning the results.
“We’ve tried to possess the last two games,” said Michigan junior attackman Trevor Yealy, who paced Michigan with four goals. “You heard it last night when we possessed against Chapman and the entire stadium was booing, and tonight people weren’t happy but when you play a team that is that dangerous, you have to slow it down. We took nothing but smart shots.”
From Michigan’s defensive point of view, the egghead approach to the game was more of a necessity than a choice.
“The Chapman game mentally and physically drained us,” said junior defenseman Harry Freid. “I felt our offense tonight was our best defense because they were able to hold the ball for long possessions and then we were able to use our ride.”
The “Michigan 10-man ride” has become almost a running joke among MCLA coaches because most of them think they have the antidote until they finally have to deal with it. The ride resulted in numerous turnovers for the Sun Devils, which can be the difference in a one-goal game.
“You face a 10-man ride in a tournament like this and what do you have, maybe 10 hours to prepare for it? They ride well and they’re a great team,” said ASU head coach Chris Malone. “There’s no doubt they wanted to get into a possession game and we talked about it at halftime, but we still felt like we had some opportunities in transition.”
Early on, the chances were there for Arizona State, and the Sun Devils were doing a solid job of converting. Late in the first quarter, James Reap and Ryan Westfall tallied goals to give the challengers a 5-3 lead with 35 seconds left. The Wolverines took a bit of the edge off when Svet Tintchev delivered on a roll to the right to cut the lead to one with just 7.7 ticks remaining in the first.
Seemingly spooked by the two-goal deficit, Michigan fully implemented their disciplined approach in the second quarter. By dominating time of possession, the Wolverines blanked ASU in the second while grinding out a pair of goals at the end of lengthy sets to take a 6-5 lead into halftime.
The plodding nature of play made the crowd restless, but for the Wolverines it’s about playing to their strengths.
“It’s kind of a misperception about us slowing things down,” said Paul. “We want to be patient, we want to be poised, and we want to take good shots. And, to be honest, we don’t have the guys who can break down a defense on every single dodge. So if you play good defense on us and we don’t get to the cage, we’re not going to shoot.”
It took all of 16 seconds for Arizona State to tie the game at the start of the second half when Ryan Westfall fed his older brother, Tyler, for a finish on the crease. Michigan would use its ride to score three of the next four goals to grab a 9-7 lead heading into the final frame.
The lead ballooned to 10-7 less than a minute into the fourth when Yealy took a feed on the crease from Tintchev, but the Sun Devils quickly reminded the Wolverines why they were slowing things down. In the span of 1:09, Eric Nelson and the aforementioned Westfall combo struck to narrow the gap to 10-9.
Changing its stripes, if only for two minutes, Michigan answered with a pair of quick markers of its own. Matt Asperheim, the Wolverines LSM, took perhaps an ill-advised shot on the break, but it caromed off the far post and just over the goal line. That was followed by a fast break strike from Clark McIntyre to increase the bulge to 12-9 with 5:35 left.
ASU would inch closer, but a goal by Tyler Westfall – his fifth of the game – that pulled the Devils within one, came with just 8.2 seconds left, leaving ASU one shy of interrupting the Michigan dynasty.
It was a victory for brains over beauty, but when you win three national championships, everything looks pretty.