By GEOFF MEHL and JERAMY STOVER, Staff Reporters
For the University of Michigan-Dearborn lacrosse team, the 2015 season was both accomplished and disappointing.
In its first full season as a varsity sport, the lacrosse team finished with the best record in program history finishing 6-5. They also narrowly missed the playoffs, getting eliminated by Sienna Heights, 10-3, in the last game of the season.
“We had high expectations coming into the season and we fell just short of reaching our goal to make a return trip to the CCLA playoffs,” said head coach Jason Watts. “We had significant accomplishments in our first full year as a varsity sport and have shown we have the potential to compete at a high level.”
Along with finishing with its best record, the Wolverines posted its first shutout in program history by David Stephanoff against Montreat,10-0. He also shutout Lewis University 20-0 later in the year.
Stephanoff finished the season with a (.567) save percentage which landed him sixth in the CCLA.
But he had an obstacle to overcome, one he couldn’t control: distance. UM-Dearborn goalie coach Patrick Riley lives three hours away from campus, which put more pressure on the Wolverines’ coaching staff to get Stephanoff prepared each day.
“The biggest challenge was having my goalie coach move about three hours away. Being a first-year goalie, there were some things that I needed to figure out on my own that I really wish he would have been there to help,” Stephanoff said. “However, coach (Wagner) helped out a ton. He changed the warmup to my needs and was extremely flexible. I don’t know if I could have done it without his help.”
Watts made it clear that the teams success wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication Stephanoff put into his new role.
“Nothing would have been possible without the performance put on by Stephanoff,” said Watts. “For a player to unselfishly step into a new role for the benefit of the team, David flourished at the position.”
The records weren’t done being set there. Attackers Ruben Cabello and Dylan Hatcher went on to set several season and career scoring records.
Hatcher tied the single-season goals record scoring 31 in his senior season. He then went on to set the program’s career goals record with 113 and the career points record with 134.
For Cabello, his records came with the title of playmaker. He set the single-season record for both points per game with 4.55 and overall points with 50.
It is no wonder how Hatcher was able to score so many goals with Cabello helping with assists. Cabello set the single-season record with 29 assists and 2.64 assists per game. He also set the career record with 63 assists and 1.37 assists per game.
Cabello and Hatcher weren’t the only players that had an impact on the season. Junior defensive midfielder Mario Chavez developed into a productive player.
“Mario is one of our top defensive middies but worked extremely hard to improve his stick skills and accomplished just that,” Watts said. “He was able to step up and become a reliable two way player which was needed with our low numbers this season.”
Going into the offseason, Watts and the Wolverines have plans to improve with better depth and developing the players on the roster.
“The offseason focus is recruiting for our 2015 and 2016 classes. We have nine committed 2015 players to date and we only graduate five,” he said. “We hope to add a few more in the coming weeks to strengthen our depth heading into fall ball.
“Returners will get much-needed rest and gear up for summer ball starting in June. Summer ball is a great opportunity for returners to meet our new recruits and keep a stick in their hands as the fall preseason will be here before we know it.”
A transfer student via Ohio Valley, Donald Roda, was impressed by the play of the underclassmen in his first season with the Wolverines. With another year’s of experience he feels that next year’s team will be ready for any challenge.
“I really think the new guys on the team stepped up this year and it’s going to have a huge impact for us going into next year. They’ll have a year of college under their belts and will be ready to play some good lacrosse,” Roda said. “I’m really excited to see how competitive our team will be next year.”
To reach their goals going into next season, Watts emphasized that the team was rarely out of a game in 2015, and that they will need to get to work after the graduation of some key talent.
“We had to rely heavily on a few key players last season and that may have been the difference maker in a few key games,” Watts said. “We will also look to improve upon our mental toughness and I think part of that will come naturally as we gain more experience and confidence in ourselves.”
One of those key players, Hatcher, borrowed a line from one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen to encourage the younger Wolverines.
“Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” What he meant by that was any of his work was possible because of the work of his predecessors. These young men will be the giants for this program,” Hatcher said.
Next season the goals remain the same for Watts and the Wolverines as they continue to grow the young program.
“Our goals remain unchanged,” he said. “Make it back to the CCLA playoffs and make a push for the championship.”