Feast-or-famine offense leads to 0-2 start

Sunday, February 11, 2018 - 6:56pm

Fifth-year senior Bianca Brueckner scored a goal in Michigan's win over Jacksonville.

Fifth-year senior Bianca Brueckner scored a goal in Michigan's win over Jacksonville. Buy this photo
Zoey Holmstrom/Daily

One moment, the Michigan women’s lacrosse team was trading goals back and forth with No. 17 Colorado.

The next, it seemed the Wolverines could only watch as the game lay in shambles around them.

For 25 minutes, Michigan couldn’t find the back of the net while shot after shot from the Buffaloes fell in.

And in Sunday’s matchup against Jacksonville, it was déjà vu all over again. With 16:50 remaining in the first half, junior attacker Adriana Pedrino made the most of a free position opportunity to put the Wolverines up 4-3 over the Dolphins.

It wasn’t until nearly 10 minutes into the second half — when a successful clearance set up a goal from fifth-year senior attacker Bianca Bruekner — that Michigan scored again. By then, Jacksonville led 9-5.

“They dominated the draw controls, which, if you don’t have the ball, you can’t score goals,” said Michigan coach Hannah Nielsen. “So our defense was forced to play a lot of minutes of defense in the second half, and so when you get the ball, you get a little bit antsy.”

The defense played better than the final scores — a 20-10 loss to Colorado and a 14-9 loss to the Dolphins — would indicate. Rather, mistakes on offense left the Wolverines with little firepower and eliminated their margin for error.

In one moment, Michigan won a draw control but squandered the opportunity as the Wolverines fumbled the ball and it ended up on the ground. There, Jacksonville scooped it up and carried it down the field.

For an inexperienced team, the key to fixing those issues may lay in a new practice strategy.

“We’ll go back to the drawing board and practice to put our players under pressure instead of when game time comes around,” Nielsen said, “so it’s natural enough to play like that.”

Still, at times, Michigan showed flashes of brilliance.

“There’s times, moments of greatness where we played some of the best we’ve seen,” Nielsen said. “And then there’s moments of just errors or a lack of focus, poor decision-making.”

Pedrino had a hat trick in each game — her six goals on the weekend nearly matched her eight for the entirety of last season.

“She’s got a killer instinct about her,” said Nielsen. “She wants to win, wants to do well. Kind of put the offense on her back a little bit.”

Sophomore attacker Lilly Grass found success on free position shots, converting three goals off of penalty opportunities over the two games.

And the first half of the Colorado game — in which the Wolverines kept pace with a top-ranked team — was a testament to what they can do when they’re on.

But Michigan often wasn’t on. Improved consistency may come with practice and more experience for the freshmen, but for now, the Wolverines are focused on keeping their mental composure when things fall apart.

“It’s exactly what we said to the kids after the game,” Nielsen said. “We played a great 33 minutes of lacrosse.”

Unfortunately for the Wolverines, lacrosse games are 60 minutes.