First notch in the belt for Conry, Michigan
South Bend, Ind. has been the site of many historic sports moments. Wednesday, the Michigan men’s lacrosse team got its moment.
In the program’s seven seasons as a Division I team, Michigan had never beaten a top-five team nor a ranked opponent on the road, so the likelihood of a victory against fourth-ranked Notre Dame seemed grim.
Junior midfielder Brent Noseworthy opened up scoring just over a minute into the game, firing a shot past the goaltender’s offside hip from the right wing. The Wolverines never surrendered the lead, and Noseworthy –– the team’s leading scorer and program record-holder for goals scored in a single season –– would pour in four more goals.
Every time Michigan scored and looked to pull away, Notre Dame would match with scores of its own. Goals by freshmen attackers Kevin Mack and Alex Buckanavage were countered by two goals from the Fighting Irish, tying the game at three apiece.
The two teams exchanged blows for 60 minutes –– the Wolverines never led by more than two goals, and the Fighting Irish tied the score seven times.
“It was really just about a resilience game for our kids,” said Michigan coach Kevin Conry. “We felt like we were about to pull away and pull away. And then like any good team, Notre Dame was able to battle back. Our kids didn’t hang their heads. They didn’t let the comeback get to them. They just kept battling and focusing on the next play.”
In what proved to be the game-winning goal, junior midfielder Decker Curran scored from the wing on Noseworthy’s only assist of the game with 2:15 left in regulation. Notre Dame added a late goal to make the final score 13-12.
When the clock hit zero, the Wolverines had pulled off the biggest win in program history –– a testament to the progress the program has made and the winning culture Conry hopes to instill.
For Michigan, a win against a top-five team adds a sense of belonging and legitimacy for a program still finding its way at the varsity level.
“(The win) shows an ability that they can play with the top teams in the country,” Conry said. “So, it’s certainly a big boost to our confidence. We got some stellar performances from front to back. It was a big juice for the program, big juice for the kids –– certainly proud of them.”
Conry was part of the coaching staff at Maryland during one of the most successful stretches in program history. He coached the Terrapins to four NCAA Final Fours, five Big Ten Conference titles and a national title in five seasons. Leaving Maryland to take on the head coaching duties at Michigan, Conry took on an opportunity to build a program from the ground up.
“When you get a chance to beat a top-five team, it does kind of put a notch in the belt,” Conry said. “Obviously, it being the first one, it’s a big step in the process of growth. What we’re trying to do here is just build a sustainable championship style culture. And we feel like we’re making progress there. The reality is that we feel we’re gonna win those games.”
Saturday, the Wolverines looked to carry on the momentum from Wednesday against University of Maryland Baltimore County. And this time, there was no historic upset for the Retrievers.
Michigan fell behind after allowing a goal nine minutes into the game, but the team responded with four straight goals to go ahead 4-1. Senior midfielder Chase Young beat his defender with a face dodge and slotted the ball in the top right corner of the net for the fourth goal.
After going ahead in the first quarter, the Wolverines didn’t surrender the lead for the remainder of the contest.
Noseworthy scored four goals, recording his sixth hat trick of the season. Despite winning the game, 9-6, Michigan was outshot 42-26 and turned the ball over 17 times –– one off their season high.
A win against a team like UMBC is expected at this point. But to be consistently competitive against a team like Notre Dame is where Conry strives to have his program.
“It’s really hard to turn it around and play a Wednesday on the road then get back on the road,” Conry said. “So, I think that’s another notch for us about the resilience of the team. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t pretty early, it wasn’t pretty often. But the guys battled and battled and battled and were able to grit out an ugly win.
“... We’re in a good spot. In a good spot certainly being 7-2 with a win over a top 5 program. But this is where the rubber meets the road here. This is the next stage of college lacrosse, the next stage of our journey.”