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Men’s club lacrosse falls to Michigan in national quarterfinals

Sometimes losing is the best thing that can happen to a team.

That’s just what the Oregon men’s club lacrosse team learned in February when it uncharacteristically opened its season with four-straight losses, including two narrow defeats to perennial powers No. 3 Michigan and No. 5 Chapman.

The Ducks, who started their 2011 campaign ranked seventh, fell out of the national rankings, and it would have been easy for some to write off any postseason chances for the team.

Instead, Oregon used the 0-4 mark as a learning experience that helped define the rest of its season.

The Ducks’ season ended last Wednesday with a 13-8 loss to Michigan in the quarterfinals of the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association national tournament in Denver. But considering how the No. 6 Ducks (12-7, 3-0 Pacific Northwest Collegiate Lacrosse League) started the year, even making it to that point was an extraordinary feat. @@

“It was good to have that wake up call in the beginning and know you can’t come in overconfident,” senior midfielder Kevin Clark said. “We knew we had to work hard, and it gave us that motivation. After those four losses, we knew every game after that would be really, really important.” @@[email protected]@

What followed was a remarkable stretch of play that re-energized the Ducks and brought them back into the national picture. The Ducks went 8-2 the rest of the regular season and closed with a five-game winning streak. Along the way, Oregon picked up crucial home victories against No. 18 Minnesota-Duluth, No. 11 Cal Poly and bitter rival Simon Fraser. @@[email protected]@

After starting the first four games of the year on the road in California, the Ducks played in Oregon for their next 13 contests. Senior goalie Nick Johnston said playing closer to home was an important factor in the Ducks’ change in fortune.

“Just playing in front of fans, parents, people that love us — it’s something very motivating,” Johnston said.

The Ducks’ late-season surge helped earn them the top seed in the PNCLL tournament. After easily disposing of Montana and Oregon State in the first two rounds, the Ducks found themselves in the championship game with Simon Fraser for the second consecutive year. Behind an 8-0 scoring rout in the final quarter, the Ducks defeated the Clan, 16-8, captured their second straight conference title and a guaranteed spot in the 16-team MCLA tournament.

In Denver, the eighth-seeded Ducks defeated ninth-seeded Cal Poly, 11-8, in the first round and next encountered undefeated, three-time defending national champion Michigan in the quarterfinals. After a close, double-overtime loss to the Wolverines earlier in the season and with a current nine-game winning streak, the Ducks didn’t have many doubts before facing such a formidable opponent.

“We were very confident,” Clark said. “We match up well with them athletically. We knew this was going to be like a championship game for us, so we came out really fired up.”

The Ducks, however, conceded four quick goals to the top-seeded Wolverines early in the contest and couldn’t make up for it.

“It was just an uphill battle the rest of the way,” Clark said. “We were just trying to get back in it. We went on some runs and made it a close, competitive game, but overall we couldn’t get back after that slow start.”

The 13-8 defeat marked the end of the Ducks’ turnaround season, but if there’s to be any solace, at least the defeat came at the hands of a much-talented squad.

“They’re a good team,” Johnston said about the Wolverines, who suffered a stunning loss to fifth-seeded Arizona State in the next round. “They’re tough. They have good discipline.”

Even though they fell short of their ultimate goal of being crowned national champions, the Ducks look back at the season with favor.

“It was a long season, and those first four games didn’t define our season at all,” Clark said. “I think we just needed to work hard, and we did that. And that’s why we had a successful season.”

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