For the first 20 minutes of Sunday’s matchup against No. 11 Denver, the No. 8 Michigan women’s lacrosse team looked like a runaway freight train.
But up five goals midway through the second period of play, the Wolverines put on cruise control.
Meanwhile, the Pioneers stepped on the gas.
For the final 40 minutes, Denver (7-1 overall) sped past a rattled Michigan (7-1 overall) en route to a 9-8 come-from-behind victory.
After seemingly shutting the door in the second quarter, the Wolverines’ style of play relaxed, underestimating a Pioneer team that continued to hang around. Denver adjusted its defensive schemes and ramped up the intensity, leaving Michigan gasping for air.
“I think over the course of the game we kind of just ran out of legs,” Michigan coach Hannah Nielsen said. “To Denver’s credit, they kept the pressure up and we just went a little passive.”
In the final moments of the first half, Denver chipped in three goals in under three minutes to cut the Michigan lead to 6-4 going into the break.
“I think we carried (momentum) into the beginning of the third quarter,” fifth-year attacker Caitlin Muir said. “But, we just lost a bit of the speed we were playing at. Being up by a good amount we kind of just got a little complacent with where we were.”
With three minutes left in the third period, Michigan had reasserted a commanding 8-4 lead, but ran into yet another wall.
The Pioneers switched from a collapsing zone defense to an aggressive doubling scheme that saw two, and often three, defenders frantically rushing at the Wolverine ball carrier.
“I think we just got frazzled at times,” Nielsen admitted. “I think there were times where we were in control and just threw it away.”
Instead of cycling the ball and promoting a faster offense that could outpace the Denver defensive onslaught, Michigan succumbed to the unrelenting Pioneer defense, committing a litany of turnovers that had rapid implications.
With three minutes left in the third quarter, a shot-clock violation by a stymied Michigan offense gifted the Pioneers the ball and an opportunity to claw back.
After a successful clearing attempt, Denver attacker Bea Behrins ripped a shot short side to make it 8-5.
And it was all gravy from there.
The Pioneers entered the fourth quarter on a blister, scoring a goal in the first minute and controlling the pace until the very end. Denver finished the game on a five-goal run, leaving Michigan stunned at the result of a game that, at one point, seemed secured.
Nevertheless, in the face of a stinging loss, the Wolverines and coach Nielsen seemed unfazed.
“It’s potentially an early season thing.” Nielsen said. “We were talking about hanging onto a lead and learning how to play when you have a lead, speeding up as opposed to slowing down. We played really well at times.”
Senior midfielder Kaitlyn Mead echoed the same sentiments.
“It’s obviously not the outcome we wanted, but we just have to hit the whiteboards again.”