The Michigan men’s lacrosse team gave it their all on senior day, But unfortunately, the Wolverines (2-8 Big Ten) fell just short of victory as they lost 13-12 to No. 8 Rutgers (8-2).
The first quarter saw the Wolverines jump to a 3-1 lead. Freshman defenseman Jack Whitney entered the offensive zone with the ball which created a fast break. He drew defenders which allowed sophomore attackman Josh Zawada to get open for an easy first goal. Junior goaltender John Kiracoffe made saves and forced clears allowing Michigan to capitalize on their opportunities early.
The tide of the game shifted when Rutgers took a timeout with a little over 30 seconds left in the first quarter. After reorganizing offensively, the Scarlet Knights proceeded to score seven goals in a span of 13 minutes putting the Wolverines in a tough spot as they were 8-5.
Michigan would muster an offensive retaliation, scoring four goals in the second quarter — two by Zawada to complete the hat trick for the day, sophomore midfielder Jack Bonomi, and freshman attackman Michael Boehm — but the Wolverines needed to make defensive adjustments at halftime, as they still trailed Rutgers 8-7. Whenever Michigan scored, Rutgers answered with a goal of its own.
The Wolverines entered the second half invigorated by their new defensive strategy, which would focus more on zone defense rather than man-to-man. The tactic worked, as the Scarlet Knights were held to just five goals the rest of the way.
“We stuck with the zone a little bit more. We made an adjustment with our short stick with how he was recovering,” Michigan coach Kevin Conry said. “Early on, we were flying upfield from those wings’ shooters… When you play a zone, and hold their best player to no goals it is a big credit to our guys’ execution of the adjustments.”
While the defense was forcing stops and slowing down Rutgers’ attack, Michigan’s offense struggled in the second half and failed to seize opportunities when they were presented with them.
The Wolverines failed to convert multiple man-up opportunities into goals. Those wasted moments would cost Michigan the game. The Wolverines failed to score on a two-minute non-releasable penalty at the beginning of the second half, and they would be unable to break themselves from that trend.
“It was a big momentum swing for Rutgers. For two weeks in a row, we had a man up face-off with the ball in our stick and could not come away with a goal,” Conry said. “I think that was a big moment, and we ended up going 0-2 on that in those games. So that is something we are going to have to really look into practicing and see if we get better at it.”
Despite their inability to capitalize on man-up opportunities the Wolverines still managed to tie the game with nine minutes left. It appeared the momentum was swinging towards Michigan. The Wolverines managed to maintain possession as a result of accurate passing and getting ground balls. The Rutgers goaltender, however, was strong in net, making six of his nineteen saves in the fourth quarter.
“We need to work on shooting,” Conry said. “Nineteen saves is a lot of saves. I think we can identify where we can put better shots.”
Rutgers then scored with six minutes left to take the lead.
Michigan had one more chance to tie the game in the final moments with a man up opportunity. But the trend continued as the Wolverines once again failed to score on the man advantage resulting in a crushing 13-12 loss. A turnover by Michigan allowed Rutgers to clear the ball and run out the clock.
The Wolverines offense and defense haven’t operated at the same level all season, and it’s cost the team in close games. When the defense makes a stop, the offense struggles, and when the offense is firing on all cylinders, the defense plays poorly.
“For two weeks in a row, we came up one goal short.” Conry said.