DEARBORN, Mich. - This season is the first for the Wolverines as a full-time member of the NAIA after spending the last 15 years as a club and varsity club team in the MCLA, while splitting time last season in the MCLA and NAIA. The Wolverines will continue to compete in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference, which adds Concordia University-Ann Arbor and Madonna University this season.
The 2017 season gets started at home for the Wolverines as St. Ambrose University comes to town. The game is set for 2 p.m. Sunday at the Detroit Country Day Fieldhouse in Beverly Hills, Mich.
Since the beginning of the program, there have been two constants with Wolverine men's lacrosse – Head Coach Jason Watts and Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator Mike Wagner, both of whom played in the first days of the program before taking over UM-Dearborn as coaches. Watts is in his ninth season as the head coach of the Wolverines and has steadily built UM-Dearborn from its nascent days into a competitive team that is ready to make some noise in the WHAC and NAIA this season.
Watts sees the WHAC as the top conference in the NAIA this season, with three teams (No. 2 Lourdes University, No. 5 Siena Heights University and No. 7 Indiana Tech) ranked in the preseason top-10 poll, while another two are receiving votes. The Wolverines will not have to worry about last year's NAIA Invitational National Champion Davenport University, as the Panthers are staying in the MCLA as the school works to transition to NCAA Division II.
"The WHAC is likely the strongest conference in the NAIA top-to-bottom featuring three teams in the pre-season top 10," Watts said. "Notably, Lourdes looks to be a top team in the conference, and nationally."
The Wolverines will be young this season, with seven freshman and seven sophomores on the squad. Captains Mitchell Stapleton (JR/Detroit, Mich.), Matthew Daratony (JR/Hartland, Mich.) and Donald Roda (SR/Harrison Township, Mich.) will be looked to for guidance with an inexperienced, but talented UM-Dearborn team.
Stapleton will be leaned on to carry a heavy load in the midfield after gaining valuable playing time over the last two seasons. He finished last season with 26 points from the midfield, behind only Matthew Rosteck (JR/Commerce Township, Mich.)'s 28 points from the midfield position. Both will play a major role in helping UM-Dearborn gain and maintain possession this season.
"Stapleton has seen a lot of playing time the last two years and is an excellent two way middie," Watts said. "Rosteck put up impressive numbers the last two years and we expect him to continue to create match-up problems for the other team."
Another leader in the midfield will be Daratony, who plays several key roles for the Wolverines, including defensive midfield, face-off specialist and long-stick midfield. The most experienced returner on the attack for UM-Dearborn is (Hannibal) Roda, who led the team in scoring a year ago with 38 points, including a team-high 14 assists. The Wolverines should be improved at the face-off position with the return of specialist Jake Harrison (SO/Walled Lake, Mich.), who is a All-WHAC performer.
Watts will look for the offense to carry the load early in the season as the defense gains experience. The Wolverines have new faces on attack with the addition of Pasadena, Calif., native James Hatch (FR/Pasadena, Calif.) and University of Detroit Mercy, an NCAA Division I program, transfer Devon Callaghan (SO/Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) adding a new level of scoring ability to the team with their speed and shooting.
In goal, Watts has two options with freshmen Jon Chaffee (FR/Hartland, Mich.) and Liam Turner (FR/Ann Arbor, Mich.) battling for the starting spot heading into the season. Freshman Lucas LaForge is set for extended playing time as a freshman at the defensive position.
"Playing disciplined lacrosse, and dictating the game will be keys to our success this season," Watts said. "We don't want to react to the other team, we want to come out, play our game and dictate how the other teams will play us. We need complete buy in and for players to trust the process."
With the additional talent in 2017, Watts sees UM-Dearborn having the potential to make a run in the WHAC playoffs and take that next step towards becoming an established power in the NAIA.
NOTE: All UM-Dearborn home games will be played at Detroit Country Day Fieldhouse in Beverly Hills, Mich.