Five minutes into the first quarter, freshman midfielder Jake Bonomi glided across the left side of the field, tucking his crosse to his side as he face-dodged past a flurry of defenders. With his hands free, Bonomi then smoothly placed his shot right past the left shoulder of Cleveland State goalkeeper Gareth Haigh to net the Michigan men’s lacrosse team’s first goal of the 2020 season, and his first goal as a Wolverine.
Alongside Bonomi, who recorded one other goal and one assist on Saturday, fellow freshmen attackman Josh Zawada and defenseman Dylan Gardner, who both found the back of the net twice, had impressive debuts as the Wolverines (1-0) defeated the Vikings (0-1), 16-9, in their season opener.
With senior midfielder Avery Myers out due to injury, three freshmen found themselves in the Wolverines’ starting offensive rotation: Bonomi, Zawada and midfielder Jacob Jackson.
And they all proved why they deserve to be starters, seamlessly integrating themselves into a fierce unit of goal-scorers that includes junior attackman Kevin Mack and sophomore attackman Bryce Clay.
“Playing alongside Kevin and Bryce, I have to work off them,” Zawada said. “Every time they dodge, I’m there. I gotta just know my place and what to do. Everything will fall into place after that.”
“We have some firepower with our offensive unit, but it’s more about leadership,” Michigan coach Kevin Conry said. “It’s just the quiet confidence in this group that they know that they have the ability to go on some of these runs.”
Bonomi and Zawada’s goals were paired with a set of opportunistic goals from junior midfielders Alex Buckanavage, after a man-up possession, and Steven Schnieder, following a lengthy ground ball scrum. By the end of the first quarter, Michigan extended its lead to 4-1.
“It was more about just understanding and knowing that they could do it,” Conry said. “It’s great to see them actually perform. They’ve had such good preseasons that we weren’t very surprised.”
Three minutes into the second quarter, Vikings’ attackman Tristan Hanna found teammate Ryan Haigh streaking through the Wolverines’ defensive unit. Haigh then fired a shot past senior goalkeeper Matt Trowbridge to cut Michigan’s lead to two goals.
But just two minutes later, Clay bulled his way through a Vikings’ defenseman and fired a shot past Haigh to re-extend Michigan’s lead to three.
The Wolverines didn’t look back from there. Highlighted by a ferocious time-and-room goal scored by fifth-year senior Rocco Sutherland and an open-net goal from near midfield by Gardner, Michigan piled on four more goals throughout the quarter. At halftime, the Wolverines stood tall with a commanding 9-3 lead.
In last season’s contest against Cleveland State, Michigan found itself in a similar situation, up 7-0 halfway through the second quarter. The Wolverines let the Vikings back into the game and barely escaped with a victory, 10-8.
This season, although Michigan was able to hold onto a healthy-sized lead throughout the second half, Cleveland State never folded and scored twice as many goals in the second half as it did in the first.
Led by Hanna, who scored two of his three goals in the second half, the Vikings capitalized on a young Wolverines’ defensive unit’s miscues on transition defense and positioning several times.
“You have to look and give Cleveland State a lot of credit,” Conry said. “Tristan Hanna is slippery. He’s got incredible hands and moves really well off the ball. A lot of it is the speed he was working at. … You look at those guys who are all freshmen getting back in the hole. A lot of times you get back in the hole, you rest. (And) you can’t rest. So that’s really the message that we have to continue to hammer into them.”
Despite occasional lapses, Michigan’s defense stood its ground for the most part and took advantage of numerous missed opportunities ceded by the Vikings. In addition to his two goals, Gardner scooped up seven ground balls and caused one turnover. Sophomore defensive midfielder Andrew Russell and sophomore defenseman Drake Schaffner each picked up three ground balls to award the Wolverines’ offense the possessions they needed to maintain their lead.
In spite of Cleveland State’s offensive efforts, its defense was unable to contain Michigan’s offensive weapons throughout the second half.
Forty-five seconds into the third quarter, Jackson netted his first goal as a Wolverine. Following an unreleasable unnecessary roughness penalty by the Vikings, Buckanavage and Mack scored goals within a minute of one another to extend Michigan’s lead to eight, 12-4.
Whenever Cleveland State was able to score, the Wolverines had an answer.
And on Saturday, that was all they needed.