Three hundred sixty four days after achieving an impressive upset on the road against Ohio State in the Big Ten Quarterfinal, the Michigan men’s lacrosse team was unable to make lightning strike twice in the same place.
After a grueling first half, the Buckeyes pulled away to start the third quarter and never looked back, completing run after run as Ohio State (10-4 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) handled Michigan (7-8, 0-6) 16-10 in the Wolverine’s final game of the season.
For Michigan, this defeat marks its eighth straight loss, tying the program all-time record initially set in its inaugural 2012 season. Though the team was unable to capitalize on numerous chances to break the streak, Coach Kevin Conry sees the issue as a simple one:
“You stay true to your core values,” Conry said. “And that’s what better teams do. They stay true to their core values and they just do their jobs consistently, and that’s how you win.”
Core values were a recurring theme for the Wolverines who, at times, showed evidence of growth in this final matchup. From offensive discipline, to defensive communication, Michigan displayed why Conry believes in its supreme potential.
Potential which flashed on Saturday as Michigan came out of the gates strong, something it struggled with in previous games this season. For the first eight minutes of the game, the Wolverines completely controlled the pace. The team dominated the Buckeyes, winning the first two faceoffs and five ground ball pickups.
These possession battles directly translated to offensive chances as Michigan hammered Ohio State with 10 shots, taking a 1-0 lead deep into the first quarter.
However, that offensive paradise abruptly halted as a turnover by Wolverine sophomore attackman Ben Hull galvanized a seven goal Buckeye onslaught. Powered by attackmen Jack Meyers and Jackson Reid, Ohio State pounced on Michigan’s weakness: giving up runs.
After looking like a much more mature team in the early minutes of the game, the Wolverines slipped back into their old ways, allowing a characteristic run that lasted until the middle of the second quarter. After it regained its composure, Michigan stared at a bleak 7-2 deficit.
The Wolverines’ inability to escape the pandemonium of their highest highs and the depression of their lowest lows has left them looking bipolar.
“That’s maturity,” Conry said. “It’s maturity and staying the course. You know, not riding the emotional rollercoaster for sure.”
In characteristic fashion, following the lowest of lows, the team encountered the highest of highs. Following the Buckeyes’ offensive surge, the Wolverines put on a run of their own to close the first half, bringing the score to 7-6 at the break. Junior attackman Josh Zawada punctuated the run with his 41st goal of the season, which brought him to 145 career points and made him Michigan’s all-time leading scorer.
As they have all season, the Wolverines had briefly flashed the ‘core values’ that Conry preached. With growing momentum and the wind sucked out of Ohio State’s sails, the team had the opportunity to crush the Buckeyes.
But Ohio State had other plans as it jumped out of the break with gusto, scoring four straight goals and sending Michigan right back to where it started: a five goal deficit.
A second goal by Zawada with a minute left in the third attempted to stop the bleeding for the Wolverines, but by that point it was too late. The Buckeyes steamrolled Michigan the rest of the way, pouring on five more goals and ending the game on a 9-3 scoring tilt.
“They just dominated us,” Conry said. “They completely dominated the ball. We didn’t really get any offensive possessions in the third quarter, because we didn’t make a ton of stops, and all their offense was going and that’s what got them that.”
While there were points in the game where the Wolverines had opportunities to come back, they were unable to capitalize, deviating from the lessons they had learned in previous matchups.
For a Michigan team composed of younger players, it evidently still has room to grow.
“This team was the most talented team that Michigan lacrosse has ever had,” Conry said. “But talent doesn’t win lacrosse games. You need discipline, and you need to build on your core values.”
After Saturday though, the Wolverines must wait an entire offseason before they have the chance to show those core values again.