Men’s lacrosse drops season opener to No. 7 Penn State

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By Minh Doan, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 9, 2014

Within five minutes of the starting whistle, Penn State had put six goals into the back of the net, and the reality started to sink in that Michigan would not walk out of Happy Valley with a win.

The Michigan men’s lacrosse team opened its 2014 campaign against No. 7 Penn State at Holuba Hall in State College on Saturday hoping to start off the season with a huge upset.

But for the Wolverines, the picture-perfect start they wanted never came and the Nittany Lions overwhelmed Michigan (0-1) on their way to a 22-7 victory.

By the time the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the first quarter, the Nittany Lions had an 8-0 lead with three goals apiece from attackers Shane Sturgis and reigning Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year TJ Sanders. Any chance that Michigan had to comeback was diminished. Sturgis ended the contest with a game-high six goals, while Sanders finished with five.

“They came out firing,” said fifth-year senior midfielder Thomas Paras. “They’re a great team and they showed that today.”

In the second quarter, the Wolverines put their first goal past Penn State netminder Austin Kaut — winner of the 2013 Ensign C. Markland Kelly Jr. Award, given to the top goaltender in the nation. Freshman attacker Ian King got Michigan on the board with a goal during a man-up situation when he received the ball on a pass from sophomore midfielder Riley Kennedy and fired it past Kaut with 9:42 left in the half.

In the locker room at halftime, Michigan coach John Paul reminded the team that they needed to get back to the basics of what they had practiced all offseason.

“Halftime gave us a good couple minutes to talk to the team about what we could improve on in the second half,” Paras said. “We talked about playing smarter, which I think we did in the second half.”

Though the scoreboard didn’t fare better for the Wolverines in the second half, the halftime talk seemed to have jolted the team as they played a much better half. The Wolverines tied Penn State’s shot total of 20, whereas in the first half they were outshot 23-15.

Michigan got on the board first in the second half with another goal by King in similar fashion to his first goal. Again, a feed from Kennedy on a man-up situation helped the Wolverines cut the lead to 11-2.

“The goal was great for his confidence and to kind of break the ice,” Paras said. “Now that the first goal is off his back, he can focus on his game and not on getting that first goal.”

But that was as close as the Wolverines would come. The Nittany Lions went on to score the next four goals to end any hopes of a comeback.

David McCormack scored Michigan’s first even-strength goal 20 seconds later on Kennedy’s career-high third assist as Paras, sophomore Mike Hernandez, redshirt sophomore David Joseph and freshman Mikie Schlosser also tallied to round out the Michigan scoring.

Freshman goaltender Robbie Zonino also made his collegiate debut in the game. Zonino made five saves while giving up 11 goals before being taken out. He was replaced by sophomore goaltender Mike D’Alessio who also gave up 11 goals.

“Zonino wasn’t seeing the ball very well, but our defenders weren’t having a great day either,” Paul said. “We really wanted Robbie to have some confidence going out of this game so we thought it was best to make the change.”

For a season that was supposed to be the one where the Wolverines broke out, it didn’t get off to the best start. But the Michigan team was unfazed by the score in the locker room at the end of the game, according to Paul.

“The locker room was more positive than you would think,” he said. “It was a bad day for us, but our goals are still intact. We’re not going to let one really bad day ruin everything we’ve been working for.”