Michigan weathers Albany comeback to win, 12-11

Saturday, February 29, 2020 - 6:21pm

Caitlin Muir scored the deciding goal in Michigan's win over Albany.

Caitlin Muir scored the deciding goal in Michigan's win over Albany. Buy this photo
Alec Cohen/Daily

With under one minute left, as Albany held possession looking to tie the game at 12, Michigan held steady. Its defenders stayed with the opposing attackers, refusing to give an easy look. Then, as the clock ticked under 20 seconds, the Great Danes found their best look goal and took it. 

But junior goalie Arielle Weissman was there to make the save. The game was over. The Wolverines had won.

“I relied on my defense to do what they had to do,” Weissman said. “To give me a good shot, a good look, and they did that.”

This moment was a microcosm as the No. 14 Michigan women’s lacrosse team (4-1) beat Albany (1-2), 12-11.The Wolverines bent — as they blew an early six-goal lead and allowed a shot on the final possession — but, never broke — as Weissman saved that final shot and capped off a win that saw them lead for all but the game’s first 43 seconds.

“We found a way,” Michigan coach Hannah Nielsen said. “We scratched and clawed our way into making those stops and scoring those goals just to keep one goal ahead, and that says a lot about the resilience and toughness of the group.”

Early on, it didn’t look like the Wolverines would need to “find a way” to win this game. They played a dominant first 16 minutes, scoring six goals and seemingly never relinquishing possession of the ball. It felt like the game was on its way to becoming a blowout. The Great Danes coaches were screaming at the refs, looking for a call that might swing the momentum, and their fans, who came out to Ann Arbor, had nothing to cheer about.

But then the game changed. Not every bounce was going Michigan’s way and as Albany started getting some possession, its fans started to get into it and the field no longer felt tilted in favor of the Wolverines. 

“It was a combination of them both,” Nielsen said. “With them making adjustments and us kinda taking our foot off the pedal and shifting our focus.”

Shortly after, the Great Danes found the back of the net for the first time. Then, they found it again. This second goal sending the Albany side into a complete frenzy as they sensed what was happening.

Michigan responded to this with a big goal from junior attacker Caitlin Muir as she shook a defender in close to the goal and then buried the ball in the corner of the net. Muir had a huge game for the Wolverines, netting five goals including the game winner later on.

This goal didn’t stop the Great Danes’ momentum though. They scored twice late in the half to cut it to three before the break. Then, at the start of the second half, Albany shot out of a cannon, scoring two more quick goals before Michigan even held possession. The second goal sent the Great Danes’ fans and bench into absolute pandemonium as they sensed that their team may be about to tie the game.

But again, the Wolverines didn’t break. They responded with three of the game’s next four goals to stretch the lead back to three at 10-7. However, there were still 20 minutes left and the game was far from over.

Albany responded quickly with two consecutive goals, cutting the deficit to one again. Then, the game saw a prolonged stretch of missed chances on both sides as neither team could make their case for a win.

Muir stretched the lead to two with 12 minutes to go, but a response by the Great Danes less than a minute later brought the game to where it had been: Michigan clinging to a one goal lead.

Albany seemed to feel comfortable in this position, just within reaching distance of the Wolverines, waiting for the perfect chance to finally tie the game.

That chance almost came after a Michigan possession once again came up empty. With the crowd at their backs, the Great Danes pushed the ball up the field, but then, seemingly out of nowhere, possession was stripped and the ball found its way to Muir, standing all alone behind the defense. 

What happened next was as unpredictable as it was unstoppable.

Muir scored and her goal with seven minutes left was the deciding factor in a game that ended 12-11.

“Caitlin Muir again, if it wasn’t for her we would be with the L next to our name,” Nielsen said. “She continues to put the team on her back and score in big moments.”

Muir, in combination with the rest of the team’s resilience, was just enough to get past Albany. But the performance raises questions.

This was the second time in the Wolverines last three games that they saw a lead of five goals or more evaporate. And, while they won both games, it makes one wonder if this will be their undoing later on in the season, when they play tougher opponents.

That problem, though, is for another day.