Men’s lacrosse takes on Mercer in home opener

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By Minh Doan, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 13, 2014

Last season, the Michigan men’s lacrosse team closed out its home schedule with a win.

A season later, the Wolverines are looking to open up their home schedule in that same fashion against Mercer at the Oosterbaan Field House on Friday night.

“It’s nice to play at home,” said fifth-year senior midfielder Thomas Paras. “It’s always a good atmosphere whenever we have a home game. We’re looking forward to playing in front of our fans.”

When the two teams met two years ago, it ended in a historic win for the Wolverines.

In 2012, the two teams met in Jacksonville, Fla. in Michigan’s inaugural season as a Division I lacrosse program. The Wolverines came into the match 0-5, still searching for their first-ever NCAA win. Behind four goals from Paras, Michigan walked away with a 14-4 victory.

The Wolverines come back to Ann Arbor after a disappointing trip to Happy Valley, where they lost to Penn State, 22-7, to open their season.

But instead of letting the loss affect them, the players quickly regrouped. Paras organized a players-only meeting to get the team back on track.

“(The players’) attitude was to put it behind them and get right back to work,” said Michigan coach John Paul.

In the game against the Nittany Lions, freshman goaltender Robbie Zonino was pulled at halftime after allowing 11 goals in his first collegiate game.

But Zonino will be back in net for the Wolverines on Friday night as he looks to rebound, which his coach and teammates are confident he’ll do.

“Robbie didn’t play well, and he has better lacrosse in him,” Paul said. “Just like the rest of the team, he wants to redeem himself. The bottom line is he has to stop the ball because that’s his job, and he can and he will.”

Mercer (1-0) comes into the game after thrashing Boston University, 17-6. The 17 goals were its highest offensive output in three years, and attacker Zack Ward tallied six times in the game on his way to Atlantic Sun Offensive Player of the Week honors.

The Bears’ offense is also led by attacker Chris Baxa — an Atlantic Sun Preseason All-Conference pick. Last year, Baxa led all Division I freshmen with 2.75 goals per game. He continued his torrid pace this with four goals and two assists in Mercer’s win over the Terriers.

Michigan’s offense will again count on Paras to put the Wolverines on top.

Paras leads an offense that struggled in the first half against Penn State with only one goal — and none in the first quarter. Leading the scoring was freshman attacker Ian King, who scored the first two goals of his collegiate career. King has impressed with his shooting and strong runs to goal.

Last season’s leading scorer, sophomore midfielder Kyle Jackson, was left off the score sheet and will look to get in the goals column this week.

Against Penn State, the Wolverines struggled with the possession battle, a metric that starts in the faceoff circle. With sophomore faceoff man Brad Lott out, freshman Will Biagi took over and won 44 percent of his faceoffs. Against Mercer, Paul will turn to Biagi to get Michigan a majority of the possessions.

“Will Biagi actually played fairly well, but we didn’t give him a lot of reps against Penn State,” Paul said. “Will is going to be our top guy for now, and we hope to ride him the whole game.”

After a lackluster game against the Nittany Lions with arguably the toughest team on their schedule, the Wolverines now play a team that’s just in its fourth year as a DI program.

But the mentality doesn’t change.

“We have to approach every opponent the same,” Paras said. “We have to stay focused regardless of who we play.”