In the growth of Michigan's lacrosse program, head coach John Paul has two areas of focus. The first, of course, is winning lacrosse games. That hasn't gone so well in 2013, with the Wolverines putting up a winless mark in ten games. The latest was a 10-6 decision for Air Force in Michigan Stadium this afternoon.
The second focus is on building a program. While the Wolverines may not show it on the field this spring, the new program is gaining momentum toward being one of the country's best. Still, each loss still reminds Paul and the Wolverines how far they have to go.
"Our future's bright, we know it's bright," Paul said after the loss to Air Force. "I'm not concerned about the future, I'm concerned about now. Every week, we need to keep looking for the things that we're doing better week-to-week. There were things that we did better this week.
"We're playing veteran division I teams with a very young team. These are all learning experiences for them. That's what's going on right now. It's not one mistake we're making. There's two or three different mistakes, and at this level you make mistakes, and a lot of times those can snowball against you against a decent team. Air Force, they're 5-5, they're a decent Division I team."
Michigan actually struck first, with sophomore attack Will Meter burying a goal less than two minutes into the game, with an assist from classmate Mike Francia, However, Air Force evened the score late in the first, and from that point on it was all Falcons.
By the time Michigan got back on the scoreboard - with 3:21 remaining in the third quarter - The Falcons had scored nine straight goals.
"That quarter, they got ten, we got four," Paul said. "That was the quarter that we were 1/5 on faceoffs. That was just too many of those mistakes in the same quarter. If we spread those out through the course of the game, maybe they don't get a run on us, and we pace it a little bit better.
"We had two total offensive possessions that quarter, and that's not going to get it done, either offensively or for our defense. They had way too much pressure."
Michigan rebounded with three straight goals in the span of 41 seconds near the end of the third quarter, and a fourth straight early in the final frame to draw within 9-5. Freshman Kyle Jackson - who took only two shots in the first half - scored two of those goals, and credited his teammates with not giving up, even in the face of adversity.
"The whole time, I just kept telling the guys, 'don't get down, don't get down, we can come back from this,'" he said. "Once we got that one goal after it was 9-1, and we made it 9-2, then we got the third one and things started rolling and everyone started participating a little bit more. The environment got a lot better.
"I think I just made myself more available on the offense, got the ball a little more, and made use of the chances that I got. Obviously I have to shoot a little bit better: 12 [total] shots and only two goals, but getting myself open a little bit more, and we just need to execute."
Despite the late signs of life, Michigan never drew closer than the 9-5 score, and the teams traded tallies, with U-M freshman Mike Hernandez earning his second goal with 34 seconds remaining in the game to provide the final 10-6 score.
Despite the setback, there was a lot to like in the game.
"We just had a horrible second quarter and dug a hole a little bit," Paul said. "I liked the way we fought back at the end. That fourth quarter is as hard as we've played all year. Statistically. There are some good things we did that we've been working hard to do. We won the ground ball battle for the first time I think this year. We ended up getting some better shots later in the game. We kind of learned as we went."
"Obviously, we did a lot of things right in the third and the fourth," Jackson added. "We've got to do the little things the whole game. We can't start out flat like we did. We've got to come out, do the little things right, and just make sure we're executing all the plays."
Jackson and Hernandez accounted for two goals apiece, while sophomore Will Meter got on board twice himself. For Air Force, attackman Tommy McKee - a Holt, Mich. native returning to his home state for the first time as a Division I lacrosse player - scored two goals and recorded one assist.
A day after the U-M basketball team completed an improbable comeback in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet Sixteen, the lacrosse Wolverines couldn't do the same.
"We've got a couple guys who could be that [Trey Burk Burke] in a couple years," Paul said with a chuckle. "The basketball didn't dig out of those holes last year. It's going to take us a little time to do it.'
The road doesn't get much easier for the Wolverines. U-M travels to Delaware next Saturday, then plays No. 13 Ohio State April 13 in the annual Battle at the Big House prior to the football spring game.
• Jackson, Hernandez, and Meter kept pace atop the Michigan season scoring list with their goals against Air Force. Jackson leads the way with 20 points on 13 goals and seven assists.
• The Wolverines were rejoined by three defensive specialists for this game. Long-stick defenders J.D. Johnson and Austin Swaney were joined by short-stick midfielder Thomas Orr in their return from injury.
• While three players returned from injury, one missed the contest. Short-stick defensive midfielder Dan Kinek was injured in practice this week, and was held out of the lineup. He is day-to-day with the injury.
• Michigan freshman goalkeeper Gerald Logan entered the game leading the nation in saves per game with 15.89. He made 11 saves and allowed ten goals against the Falcons.