Overcoming a two-quarter scoring drought is hard enough in any circumstance. Against one of the premier lacrosse programs in the NCAA, it’s nearly impossible.
The Michigan men’s lacrosse team (3-6 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) learned this lesson the hard way over the weekend when it faced No. 18 Johns Hopkins (4-4, 1-0). A 10-0 run by the Blue Jays spanning the second and third quarters proved too much to come back from for the Wolverines, who lost by a final score of 14-8.
Playing against his alma mater and former coach Dave Pietramala, Michigan coach Kevin Conry got the Wolverines off to a promising start. Following the Blue Jays’ opening faceoff win, it took Michigan only a minute and 20 seconds to regain possession and find junior midfielder Avery Meyers an open look. Thirty seconds after Meyers rang his shot off the post, Decker Curran, who began the game only nine points short of the 100 mark for his career, put the Wolverines in the lead.
Johns Hopkins erased the deficit less than a minute later, before Michigan’s fifth-year senior defenseman Peter Hollen committed his first of two penalties on the day. The Blue Jays scored almost immediately to take the lead. Undisciplined play without the ball was a theme of the game for the Wolverines, as they committed nine penalties on the day, four of which led to Johns Hopkins goals while on the man advantage.
“We’re scrapping, because of our deficiencies at the faceoff and our injury situation, (because) we need possessions,” Conry said. “When you give them back all of those extra bonuses, you’re already at a disadvantage and then you’re giving a good, slick offense time.”
Coming into the game, Michigan was one of the best teams in the country at preventing goals while down a player, ranking eighth nationally and allowing opponents to convert only 21 percent of the time.
“You don’t expect to have that much laundry thrown,” Conry said. “This is the Big Ten, where physical lacrosse is supposed to be played. I’m surprised by the amount of penalties we’ve had … But, in Big Ten lacrosse, you cannot have that many mental lapses or lapses in discipline.”
Despite their faults, the Wolverines found themselves up two goals at the end of the first quarter. Curran scored his second of the game with four and a half minutes remaining and sophomore attackman Kevin Mack dodged left from behind the net and scored with a defender in his face to build the advantage. On the other end, strong, physical plays from junior defenseman Finn Goonan and senior defenseman Nick DeCaprio ensured Michigan finished the quarter in the lead.
The Wolverines clung to the lead for most of the second quarter despite not scoring, but Johns Hopkins scored four unanswered goals late to take a 7-5 advantage into the half. The Blue Jays were well within reach, but six unanswered goals in third quarter, two of which came as a result of penalties, ensured Michigan couldn’t mount a comeback.
One of the defensive adjustments the Wolverines made for Johns Hopkins was switching to a zone defense that would force more outside shots. The coaching staff believed this scheme played better to their goaltender’s skill set, according to senior goaltender Gunner Garn. Garn made 15 saves against the Blue Jays in his first career start, but the plan backfired at times when not executed properly by Michigan’s defenders.
“It (the zone defense) was a silly mistake by us,” Conry said. “It was a silly mistake by us. You give a good team silly mistakes, they take advantage.”
One of the game’s few bright spots was the return of senior midfielder Brent Noseworthy from injury. Wearing a brace on his right knee, Noseworthy participated in a limited capacity, taking two shots and scoring the game’s final goal to keep his 33-game point streak alive. His health status remains day-to-day, according to Conry.
Despite displaying admirable effort in a role entrusted to him only as a result of injuries, Goonan finished 6-for-22 on the day, taking all but one draw for the Wolverines. As Michigan’s faceoff woes continue, it will be difficult to hinge any hope on injured faceoff-men junior Matt Dellacroce and sophomore Connor Cronin, who have been out for the majority of the past four games.
“We’ve got what we’ve got,” Conry said. “You can’t argue with how hard Finn Goonan is playing and what he’s given us. The numbers don’t reflect, I think, the possessions, in terms of the amount of times we were able to ride the ball back. Between Finn, our wings, and our attack we’re actually getting extra possessions.”
No matter how many extra possessions the Wolverines were able to generate, though, it wasn’t enough. A rash of mental lapses on defense and undisciplined penalties ultimately made it too difficult for Michigan to overcome not scoring for the game’s middle 30 minutes.