John Kiracofe may have let in 18 goals, but it’s hard to put all of the blame on Michigan’s junior goalkeeper.
Picking apart a repeatedly dozing Michigan men’s lacrosse’s defense, Maryland’s offensive players made themselves at home on Kiracofe’s front doorstep on Saturday, ultimately besting Michigan, 18-12. On a bevy of the Terrapin’s goal-scoring occasions, he hardly stood a chance against his opponent, who was frequently hands-free and ready to pounce just inches away.
Despite racing out to a 5-0 advantage early on, the Wolverines couldn’t keep up with No. 2 Maryland. With Michigan’s defensemen struggling to keep tabs on backdoor cutters and cross-field passes, the Terrapins went on a 16-0 scoring tear that created an insurmountable deficit for Michigan.
“I think it’s probably one of the reasons why we lost,” junior defenseman Andrew Darby said. “That starts with communication on the defensive end. I thought we were doing a good job with our (one-on-one) matchups, but we were kind of getting a little bit lazy off-ball and guys were standing up and stuff.”
If the Wolverines were going to topple undefeated Maryland — which ranks second in the NCAA in goals per game — they had to contain the program’s newly christened all-time leading scorer and nation’s Tewaaraton Award front-runner, attackman Jared Bernhardt. In the game’s opening eight minutes, in which Michigan held the Terrapins scoreless, it did just that. The ball did not touch Bernhardt’s crosse once.
But Maryland, perennially dynamic and resilient, swiftly adapted its offensive strategy. After failing to create opportunities off of one-on-one dodges, the Terrapins looked to off-ball movement as a means to counter the Wolverines’ stout defensive play and get Bernhardt free. With two minutes remaining in the first quarter, Bernhardt drifted behind his defender to high crease, where he fired a low-to-low rocket past Kiracofe, notching his first of seven points on the day to cut Michigan’s lead to three, 5-2.
For the next 31 minutes, a similar sequence manifested itself seemingly on loop as Maryland netted 14 straight goals. Unable to communicate and monitor movement on the crease, there were numerous instances where the Wolverines allowed cutters to easily intrude their defensive core and bury a point-blank shot past Kiracofe.
With seven minutes remaining in the second quarter, Bernhardt raced past Darby untouched, tip-toed along the crease and caught an inside feed from attackman Logan Wisnauskas. Immediately, he turned, leapt into the air and fired in a goal, giving Maryland its first lead of the game, 6-5 — one that it would never relinquish.
Nearly every time, Bernhardt was the man behind it all for the Terrapins. And when he wasn’t scoring on the crease himself, he was feeding his teammates.
“(Bernhardt) stirs the drink,” Michigan coach Kevin Conry said. “When he gets going, he draws all the attention, and then all of a sudden, guys like Daniel Maltz open up for three goals, or Anthony DeMaio has five.”
Against Maryland, a team that is expected to play on Championship Weekend in May, the Wolverines needed to play 60 minutes of disciplined defense in order to give their offense a fighting chance of outpacing the Terrapins. Yet on Saturday, lapses in team communication and mindfulness prevented them from doing such.
“If we’re not attentive (on defense), and we’re not dialed in, it’s a real struggle,” Conry said. “Especially when you’re playing the best team in the country.”