Oct. 25, 2013
Following the end of the 2013 fall ball season, MGoBlue.com sat down with Michigan head men's lacrosse coach John Paul for a wrap-up conversation. Here is what Paul, entering his third year at the helm of the program, had to say.
On what we accomplished in the fall, beginning with the Notre Dame Scrimmage ... "The fall for us was about a couple of things. One, it was about getting this freshman class assimilated into our systems as much as we could, and into our team culture. Really, we wanted together enough of our basic offense, defense, clears, enough of our strategy, so that we could play a lacrosse game. We're certainly not very deep into that, but we can play a lacrosse game. We did a lot of technique work as well, but the next few weeks are about that work. Another part of it is culture, it's a huge part of what we're doing right now, and I think we've made unbelievable strides. I think we're ahead of where we've been before, and that's the feedback we're getting from the guys as well."
On team's reaction to not being able to play against Manhattan ... "We really wanted to play that game. The team actually took it really well; I was really worried. We knew but didn't tell them until after practice because we didn't want to have a bummer practice. We were really worried about how they would approach the last couple of days, knowing that the scrimmage that they had been looking forward to was not going to happen. It kind of speaks to where we are right now; they didn't miss a beat. We had great practices, they stayed upbeat, they stayed very focused, and then we had this intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday where we're getting as much out of it as we would have playing someone else. The guys competed, they played hard, they did some really good things in the scrimmage, and I loved our attitude and loved the way that we finished."
On incorporating younger talent with guys that were on Team One ... "Even if some of the freshmen aren't going to play for us right away, they are hitting the ground running at a much higher level than we've had in the past, and we knew that would happen. They are more physically capable of doing the things that we need them to do, and they learn the techniques much faster. A lot of them are just more mentally dialed in to getting this done. They're in the office more watching film, their focus is a little more intense on where they want to go, and how they're going to reach their goals."
On what's next for the team (Victor's Week) ... "Our philosophy this was to really loosen the reigns a little bit. As we were changing culture and moving from a club program to a varsity program, we knew that we had to change some behaviors as well. So we had to do certain things at certain times to make sure that to start that process of building this culture; that this is the most important thing. We felt like we were at a point where we could loosen the reigns a little bit, and give the guys weekends off for the most part this fall, and we've never done that before. We felt like the guys were ready for that, and that we'd be okay on football Saturdays, we wouldn't have this pregame culture anymore, but also, the deal was, you guys prove us right. And they did, they have.
"The flipside of that though, is that we've had the five days that we've been practicing during the week, and they have been longer and tougher then the last couple of Falls. Victor's Week is along those same lines. We wanted to give the guys a break from the weight room and from lacrosse, but we still wanted to compete. So we're using this as an eight hour week, four days, two hours a day. We split into four teams and we've come up with a lot of different kinds of competition, and really, three out of the twenty things we're doing have lacrosse balls and sticks involved. They're competing for prizes and recognition, but we really just wanted to give them a mental break from what we were doing. It's still physical, they're working very hard this week, but it's fun. This is the first time we've done it, so we weren't 100% sure how they'd approach this, and after day one I'm pretty pleased."
On Miles Root and the Friends of Jaclyn becoming part of the team ... "Our guys are great, and they always are in situations like that. I think it's a real privilege to be part of a family's life that's going through what they're going through. They don't have to share their time with us, and they've chosen to, and I think that there's a responsibility that comes with that. Our guys did a wonderful job with the family and with Miles and I knew they would. This gives us an opportunity to teach some lessons to our guys. You certainly can't take anything for granted when you're around a kid and a family like that, and if it helps them get through this period in their lives, then awesome, we've done something good. I love it and it's certainly something that we're going to continue."
On the schedule ... "Scheduling is always challenging and it's even more challenging this year as we've lost teams from the ECAC who, by necessity, cancelled games late with us. Then, with the Big Ten Conference, we couldn't make long-term commitments with some teams that wanted long-term commitments because our conference schedule would change. So a lot of stuff was in transition this year. Some of it happened very late, and so it was an even more challenging year to schedule. I'm happy with our schedule, and I think everybody is going to be pleased with how things worked out. We're just finalizing a couple of things and then we'll have it released very soon. We're playing four of the other five Big Ten teams, of course we have our ECAC schedule, we have a lot of home games this year, which will be great for area lacrosse fans to see the growth of our lacrosse program."
On if anyone has stood out in the fall ... "The first guy that jumps to mind is Andrew Hatton. He's been a starting defenseman for us since we put our first depth chart in place. Last year's freshman class had a ton of opportunities, but they're now sophomores, and so for this year's freshman class, and everyone coming after, it's a little tough to break into those then it was for that first class, and Hatton did right away. He's very impressive, he's learning very quickly, and he'll have a role here going forward. Robbie Zonino, our freshman goalie, played the whole Notre Dame scrimmage, did a really nice job, and brings a lot of great things to what we do as a core. He has a great attitude every day in practice, and could end up being a big factor for us this year. Those are the guys that jump off the page as freshman. Christian Wolter, we moved to defensive middie, and he is a tremendous athlete. Walk-on Peter Khoury is going to be a factor at d-mid for us. He's a really physical, really great practice player, he brings it every day. The rest of the freshman class is pushing hard, and a lot of those guys are going to see opportunities this year.
"As far as guys who came back, Mike Hernandez made some pretty big physical changes over the course of the summer, and he's come back bigger, stronger, and faster, and he was already pretty big, strong, and fast, so we're looking for Hernandez to have kind of a breakout year. Thomas Paras comes back for his fifth year and he's healthy, and he wasn't healthy throughout the whole season last year. So when he's healthy he's a pretty good lacrosse player. That midfield with those two, plus Kyle Jackson and David Joseph, and then we also get Dan Kinek back, who will be more of an offensive threat for us this year. Then of course, Mikie Schlosser, who has been injured and missed the last couple weeks of fall ball with a minor arm injury, should be a factor. Right now, those are our top six offensive midfielders, and that's a really talented group.
"I love the way Will Meter continues to progress. He gets better and better every year, he's more and more confident. Mike Francia has really stepped up. I like our attack. We're looking for Ian King to continue to develop. We brought him here to be a factor on this team, and he has all the tools, he missed the first month or so, so he's really just starting to hit his stride.
"On the other side of the field, Paxton Moore obviously put in a lot of work over the summer and he and Chase Brown are really competing for that starting longstick midfield spot. Brad Lott has completely transformed himself too, and he had an outstanding scrimmage against Notre Dame, and we're looking for bigger and bigger things from him. Mack Gembis has really continued to improve and impress, and Mack is athletically as good as anyone we have on the defensive end. I like this team and key is that we thought we'd have this freshman class that would come in and take over, but they really haven't because we've had so many guys work hard and improve, and that's what we needed."