For the first time in Michigan men’s lacrosse program history, the Wolverines advanced to the Big Ten tournament semifinals with a win against Ohio State. It was also their first win over their rivals in three tries this season.
Michigan (3-8 Big Ten) pulled off a historic victory for the program against their biggest rival, Ohio State (4-7), with a 15-11 win in Columbus.
Heading into Saturday’s matchup, the team had nothing to lose against the Buckeyes.
The Wolverines have struggled mightily this season with maintaining leads. Both of Michigan’s previous two losses, to Penn State and No. 8 Rutgers, were a result of the team failing to hold onto a lead. Both games culminated in one-goal losses for the Wolverines.
In order to beat Ohio State, Michigan needed all hands on deck and had to make minimal mistakes.
The first quarter saw the Wolverines start off fast with a 3-0 lead. Strong defensive clears and successful rides allowed the defense to be involved in the offensive attack — the first three goals all came from defensemen.
“They ran their routes,” Michigan coach Kevin Conry said. “I think over the last couple of games we left a couple of things on the table by not completing our routes and finishing our runs, so it is good to see our guys be aggressive in transition, finish their routes and then get rewarded with those opportunities.”
Ohio State would respond with three goals of their own in the span of a little under three minutes to tie the game. It seemed as though Michigan would continue its trend of dropping leads and turning games into close losses, but that image quickly disappeared.
A combination of strong zone defensive plays and offensive opportunities in the second quarter allowed the Wolverines to take a 7-4 lead at halftime — led by a three goal effort in the second quarter from freshman attackman Michael Boehm.
Michigan was able to keep the ball out of the hands of the Ohio State offense, with aggressive defense forcing seven turnovers in the second quarter. The Wolverines had nine shots on goal compared to the Buckeyes’ three. Michigan’s ride allowed their offense to capitalize on turnovers, which in turn led to easy goals.
“I thought our ride was our biggest boost.” Conry said. “(Junior attackman) Bryce Clay made some big plays in the ride, which allowed us to get extra possessions and score a couple cheapies.”
The second half of the game was much more contested, as Ohio State managed to capitalize on faceoffs in the third quarter. The Buckeyes mustered four goals in the third quarter, cutting the lead to 10-8 heading into the fourth.
Momentum appeared to be swinging towards Ohio State, until a timeout by Michigan late in the third quarter. Reinvigorated, the Wolverines started the fourth quarter with a 3-0 scoring run led by sophomore attackman Josh Zawada. The Buckeyes would manage to score three of their own, but it wasn’t enough — a strong performance in net by junior goaltender John Kiracoffe in the fourth sealed the deal.
Kiracoffe finished the game with 13 saves, including seven in the fourth, while only allowing 11 goals for the day.
“At the end of the day we grew up as a team — I think that’s our biggest thing,” Conry said. “We do have a lot of young guys out and have had a rocky road for sure, consisting of a lot of highs and lows. But ultimately, all through this process, through this year, our guys have consistently just gotten better, and we’ve kept working and kept the faith.
In Michigan’s 10th season as a varsity team, it hit another milestone — advancing to the Big Ten semifinals for the first time in program history. They will now play No. 1 Maryland for the chance to earn a ticket to the Big Ten championship on Thursday.
“This is a pretty unbelievable experience for these guys,” Conry said. “We are over the moon right now.”