Sophomore attacker Caitlin Muir, positioned behind the goal, received a pass from sophomore midfielder Maggie Kane off the opening draw. She wrapped around and took a shot that found the back of the net, giving the No. 8 Michigan women’s lacrosse team (14-1 overall, 4-1 Big Ten) the lead over Rutgers (5-9, 0-4) just 17 seconds into the game en route to a 12-8 win on Saturday.
Coming off their first loss of the season to No. 2 Maryland, the Wolverine players aimed to take an early lead in order to regain some of the confidence from their 13-game winning streak that was snapped against the Terrapins last week.
“I feel like it really boosted our morale because coming off Maryland we wanted to get up early and get going," Muir said. "I think it really pushed everyone to go harder and faster and kept the trend up.”
Michigan took advantage of this momentum and used it to take a four-goal first-half lead. Three more goals scored by Muir, along with two from junior midfielder Nadine Stewart and one each from junior midfielder Molly Garrett and freshman midfielder Kaitlyn Mead gave the Wolverines an 8-4 advantage at halftime.
Michigan began the second half just as strong as it ended the first, with Kane scoring just 1:39 into the half. But the scoring quickly dried up as the Wolverines didn’t score again for more than 20 minutes, with Rutgers goalkeeper Kameron Halsall making five saves in that span. With 10:26 remaining in the game, the Scarlet Knights had cut the Michigan lead to two.
“We were getting shots, but I think once a few of them didn’t go in, the girls played a little on their heels and just started freezing up a little bit,” said Michigan coach Hannah Nielsen. “We were making stop after stop defensively, but we were hitting pipes, hitting the goalie, and she had a great game. I thought we were getting the shots but it wasn’t quite falling our way.”
Even though Rutgers appeared to be gaining momentum midway through the second half — scoring three consecutive goals — the Wolverines kept fighting. They put together a strong offensive possession that resulted in Halsall saving a free position shot, and followed it up with a defensive stand.
After clearing the zone, Muir took possession and drew a foul. She then scored her fifth goal of the day on the resulting free position shot, giving Michigan a 10-7 lead with 7:37 left. Garrett and sophomore midfielder Erin Daly both scored in the next four minutes, securing the victory for the Wolverines.
“We just needed that to keep the momentum going,” Muir said. “We knew we were OK, but we just wanted to keep it going. We were missing a lot of shots, so that really got people’s confidence back up.”
Added Nielsen: “I thought we were getting better looks on cage. We weren’t taking the low angle shots and we were sharing the ball around.”
Since the Wolverines had not lost all season prior to last weekend, this was their first opportunity to prove that they could bounce back from a tough loss. While Rutgers is not a particularly strong opponent, Michigan's strong start and continued persistence offered encouraging signs for this team going forward.
“We had a lot of fun this week in practice. We worked really hard,” Nielsen said. “We worked on some concepts that we put forth in the game today, and I thought the girls responded really well.”
As the regular season winds down, Michigan is approaching the most important part of its season. Playing aggressively from the opening whistle and persevering when the offense isn’t converting during stretches of the game like on Saturday will be crucial in hopes of beating the best teams in the country.