It is always impressive when a player crushes the competition that is presented to her. But it’s even more impressive when someone goes out of her way to seek out and battle the highest level of competition available — and that’s the story for women’s lacrosse’s senior attacker Michaela Michael.
“It’s different growing up in California. Obviously, California lacrosse isn’t the biggest thing — it’s not usually considered a hotbed for talent,” Michael said. “When I was in the eighth grade, I realized that the high school I was planning on [attending] didn’t have lacrosse, so I decided to apply to some private schools that did.”
At Menlo School in Atherton, Calif., Michael became a four-time letter winner in lacrosse. Michael also competed for the Bay Area Wave club lacrosse team throughout her
high school years. In addition to her lacrosse pursuits, Michael lettered in soccer as a sophomore at Menlo.
“Looking back, it was kind of weird that I had to seek out competition, but that was really helpful for me and playing against some of the older girls gave me some good role models,” Michael said. “Finding coaching was always kind of an active search. If I heard that a college player I knew moved out into my area, I would go online and find a way to get in contact with them to see if they could work with me. I wanted to get as much coaching as I could, but it wasn’t just around me.”
At Menlo, Michael was honored as an First Team All-American in 2011 and 2012. She was also honored as an All-American on multiple occasions by Under Armour during her high school career.
“When I was recruiting [Michael], I knew she was a special player,” head coach Lindsey Munday said in an interview with U.S. Lacrosse Magazine. “She’s tall, athletic, fast, strong, but you could tell that she had this edge about her that was really going to translate at the next level.”
Since arriving on campus as a freshman in 2014, Michael has established herself as arguably the top offensive threat in USC lacrosse’s young history. Michael holds the program record for free position goals (45), game-winning goals (12) and draw controls (275). She ranks in the top three all-time for the Trojans in almost every offensive category, including points (206, second all-time), shots on goal (235, second), goals (156, second) and assists (50, third). Michael is projected to hold every offensive career record by the end of her senior season this spring.
Michael attributes much of her on-field successes to Munday and assistant coach Alyssa Leonard, who was an All-American and NCAA champion as a player at Northwestern.
“[Leonard] has made all the difference for me,” Michael said. “She got here my sophomore year, and she began working with me three to four times a week … She’s taken me under her wing and taught me things that made her successful.”
Michael started all 18 games for USC as a freshman. She scored a total of 25 goals and recorded six assists in her first season. Michael won MPSF Rookie of the Week honors in March 2014.
In her sophomore campaign, Michael was named MVP of the MPSF after tallying 76 points on 63 goals and 13 assists. Michael then became the first player in program history to earn All-American honors (Third Team) in 2015.
As a junior in 2016, Michael broke her own single-season records for goals (68), game-winning goals (6) and draw controls (123). Michael also set USC single-season records for points (99), shots on goal (96) and free-position goals (22) in 2016.
“The only reason I record goals and assists is for the team’s success,” Michael said. “I don’t care about the stat sheet. I care about the results of the games. That’s my motivation: Is this team getting
somewhere it wants to be?”
In just its fourth season of existence in 2016, the lacrosse program launched itself into national contention with a record-breaking regular season. USC (20-1 overall last season) won the 2016 MPSF league championship and finished the season as the No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, while Munday took home 2016 MPSF Coach of the Year honors. During the season, the Trojans also put together an MPSF-record 20-game winning streak.
After becoming the first West Coast school in history to host an NCAA Tournament game, USC fell to Syracuse 12-11 in overtime of the NCAA Quarterfinals.
“You don’t just get over and forget about a game like that one,” Michael said. “Having an overtime heartbreak like that, there’s nothing you can do about that except try and get back to that point. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Women of Troy will open this season as the favorite to win the MPSF championship. After USC finished No. 4 in the final 2016 NCAA standings, expectations will be at their highest for the team in 2017.
Entering the new season, USC will be without some of its biggest assets that were at its disposal in 2016. Defender and last year’s MPSF MVP Courtney Tarleton (who graduated last spring) will be one of the crucial pieces that USC will be forced to function without this season.
“[Tarleton] was awesome,” Michael said. “She really matured and came into her own as a player. She set herself apart on the field.”
Michael is one of four USC players to receive Preseason All-American honors entering 2017, but above the many merits she has garnered, Michael has her eyes set on one goal for her senior season: bringing USC its first NCAA title in program history.
“It’s just going to come down to doing the little things right and having a solid team atmosphere,” Michael said. “Winning won’t just come down to the Xs and Os, it will be about playing as a team.”
Michael sees a national championship as the fruit of the labor that she has poured into a program that only existed from one year prior to her arrival on campus.
“It was totally a leap of faith,” Michael said. “I knew that if I chose any of the top five programs that I was looking at, I would get to play in a Final Four or a National Championship game at some point in my four years. Coming to USC, I wasn’t sure if we would even have a winning season over my four years, just because there wasn’t a tradition of lacrosse here.”
For Michael, humble beginnings in the sport have sprouted into an exalted collegiate career.
“I was nine when I started playing, but I didn’t even know what lacrosse was,” Michael said. “I actually thought it was like field hockey, so I kept hitting the ball on the ground. That was my first experience with it.”
That childhood curiosity with the stick has since evolved into brilliance on the lacrosse field.