Through the flurry of snow, Michigan freshman attacker Alex Buckanavage caught the ball five feet away from the net with a Cleveland State defender draped all over him and nowhere to move. Instead of passing the ball out of the jam or trying to get an open look at the net, Buckanavage took a no-look, over-the-shoulder shot.
“That was probably one of the worst decisions of my life,” Buckanavage said. “As a team we’re not fancy, we don’t do that crazy stuff. … If that doesn’t go in, I’m not on the field anymore.”
Luckily for Buckanavage and the Wolverines, the ball zipped past the Vikings goaltender as the Michigan men’s lacrosse team seized a 13-4 lead late in the third quarter. With the goal, Buckanavage secured a hat-trick in his first career collegiate game.
The shot was a microcosm for the Wolverines’ 15-5 victory in their first game of the season — everything went their way. Highlighted by star junior attacker Brent Noseworthy’s five goal performance and Buckanavage’s three goals and three assists, the Wolverines dominated their competition.
“I think we were super prepared,” Buckanavage said. “Usually in a snow game you start a little bit slow but we came out firing. Everyone was pretty locked in at breakfast today and honestly it was just great to get our first win.”
Michigan could not have hoped to have started the game and the season on a stronger note. Less than 40 seconds into the game, Noseworthy took a pass and fired the ball into the back of the net from about 15 yards out
“It’s definitely a good feeling when we can get on the board, no matter who that is … fast and early,” Noseworthy said. “When the first shot goes, it’s a good feeling and it’s good to set the tone for us especially. You know sometimes we let the other team kind of start ahead, so when we can start fast it’s definitely good with momentum for our side the rest of the game.”
But minutes later, the Wolverines’ hot start had subsided as they committed a costly offside penalty to take a potential goal off the board. Moments after that, they allowed an easy Cleveland State goal due to poor defending.
Michigan head coach Kevin Conry, coaching his first game for the Wolverines, took note of the sloppy play but thought it was nothing that couldn’t be corrected.
“In early season stuff you’re gonna have a lot of (those) plays,” Conry said. “It’s much more sped up and sometimes, especially in that first game of the year, the emotions take over and it gets a little helter-skelter. We’ll just have to watch the film, break it down, show our mistakes and attack them Monday.”
The game was close through the first quarter with Michigan only up 4-2. In the second quarter, however, the Wolverines broke the game open as they went up 8-3 in the eventual blowout victory.
Buckanavage opened up scoring less than three minutes in to the second quarter. He broke towards the net and leapt into the air before stepping into the goalie’s circle, all the while firing the ball into the back of the net.
Michigan continued to increase its lead throughout the second quarter, and into the third quarter, capped by Buckanavage’s behind the back, hat-trick clinching goal. That play all but spelled the end to any of the Vikings’ hopes of a comeback.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less of (Buckanavage) today,” Noseworthy said. “He played like he’s been practicing. He’s a tremendously incredible player to play with and I know he causes trouble for our defense in practice just like he caused trouble for the defense out there today.
“He’s got a really bright future here and I think it’s just a glimpse of what he’s going to bring to the team and the program.”
Since they joined the Big Ten for lacrosse in 2015, the Wolverines have faltered, finishing at the bottom of the conference every year. This, however, is a new year and the team is ready to take on the competition.
“We always have to be working harder than they are as a new program and trying to break into what is arguably the best conference in lacrosse,” Noseworthy said. “I think just attacking and getting all of these wins under our belt early so we can hit the Big Ten early with confidence and knowing exactly who we are as a team will really be helpful.”