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Monday, December 22, 2014

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Men’s lacrosse shows off firepower in impressive performance

Patrick Barron/Daily
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By Mitch Beckman, For The Daily
Published February 16, 2014

Lacrosse is a sport that can often be dominated by a handful of superstars, particularly on offense. It’s not rare to see only three or four players consistently filling the stat sheet. But the Michigan men’s lacrosse team proved in Friday night’s home win against Mercer that the pattern doesn’t always hold true.

Twelve players found twine and the Wolverines (1-1) tallied a program-record 20 goals, routing Mercer (1-1) 20-7.

Junior attackmen Andrew Portnoy and Mike Francia led the team with four points apiece. Portnoy netted three goals and an assist, while Francia had three assists and one goal. Perhaps the game’s best individual highlight came on Francia’s lone goal. He found a ground ball among a swarm of players in front of the Mercer goal, and in one smooth motion scooped the ball and threw it over his shoulder, beating the Bears’ goaltender.

“It was complete, balanced offensive attack. Everyone had an involvement in it — it was a great team effort,” said Michigan assistant coach Ryan Danehy. “In general, we like to just get in a rhythm. An offensive rhythm is huge for us and we like to start our possessions pretty fast. I thought everyone played a heck of a game.”

Added Michigan coach John Paul: “We don’t have really established superstars — we have a lot of very talented players. That’s something you’ll see all year. You’ll never see one of our players explode.”

That balance was seen on the stat sheet, as 15 players notched at least one point. Every position — with the exception of goaltender and long stick midfielder — had a hand in the 20 goals. The 20 goals were split almost evenly by position, with eight from the attack and 12 from midfielders.

From the first face-off, the Wolverines’ offense looked to attack and exploit what it viewed as athletic advantages over the Mercer defensemen. Junior attackman David McCormack’s goal, the first for Michigan, set the tone for what would be an aggressive night from the attackmen and midfielders. Portnoy took a pass behind the net and, without hesitation, drove toward the goal. Beating his defender, he forced a slide from McCormack’s man, setting up an easy pass, shot and goal.

The Wolverines utilized the speed of their attackmen to open up shooting lanes for their midfielders. Much of the offense was created with attackmen dodging from behind the net, drawing a slide and finding an open man. Seven of Michigan’s first 13 goals were assisted.

When the Bears adjusted to prevent the easy pass, the Wolverines used their athleticism to score directly off the dodge, with assists coming on only two of their second-half goals.

“We really wanted to speed the game up,” Paul said. “We were running a 10-man ride which is more attacking and we wanted to attack quickly. We felt like we had some athletic advantages we could exploit and get their defense moving.”

The Wolverines hope they can consistently field a balanced attack, and they’ll have another shot at it Wednesday night against Detroit Mercy, the state’s only other Division I program.