Allison Engkvist/Daily. Buy this photo.

The Michigan’s men’s lacrosse team got its first win of the season in thrilling fashion on Saturday. 

The game had been back-and-forth all afternoon, and with the score tied at eight, the Wolverines needed to turn the tide of the game back in their favor. With just over six minutes remaining in the third quarter, sophomore attackman Josh Zawada swung a pass out to junior attackman Bryce Clay, who buried it in the back of the net. 

Michigan didn’t look back.

The Wolverines (1-4 Big Ten) beat Penn State (1-4), 14-12, largely due to a 10-5 scoring run to finish the game and a strong performance in net from junior goalie John Kiracofe.

“I think what you saw is a young team growing up, and I think that’s kind of the most exciting piece to this whole puzzle,” Michigan coach Kevin Conry said. “We saw a young team grow up and we got a little bit of a right cross in the beginning of the game. And then (Penn State) went on a five goal run, and we didn’t fold. And that’s the most proud I’ve been of a team in a long time. Typically we come out flat and the third quarter, but guys came out and we went on a nice little run there. 

“If you’re looking for the difference in the game, it’s attitude right there. It was trust. We were trusting John and trusted (junior faceoff midfielder) Nick (Rowlett) to get us the ball, and the guys were able to cash in.” 

The beginning of the game was marked by constant momentum changes, with the Wolverines going on a 4-0 scoring run in the first quarter to lead 4-2. The Nittany Lions responded by going on a 5-0 run. It seemed like the momentum was beginning to completely favor Penn State on the field, as they were outshooting Michigan by nearly double. Kiracofe, however, stayed sharp in net, providing opportunities for his teammates in front of him to successfully clear the ball and get key offensive possessions. The Wolverines went on a 7-1 scoring run with multiple goals by Zawada, who netted four goals in the game, as well as Clay, who tallied five. 

Michigan held the Nittany Lions to just five goals in the second half, anchored by Kiracofe’s poise in the net. For the next 30 minutes, he notched nine saves, and the defense held Penn State to just fifteen shots. 

“I’ve got a good group of guys in front of me, so I’d say it’s a collective effort to do it and make the saves I can,” Kiracofe said. “I try to really help us out by being that last line of defense. So, I’d say it starts with kind of everyone understanding that it is a game of runs. But in the long run, we’re going to go on a run. And that is that and we’re right there with them.”  

The Wolverines have been plagued by turnovers in the last four games, but they seemed to have remedied the issue as of Sunday, only turning the ball over 10 times. And with Michigan being a relatively young Division I program, getting a win against a tenured program like Penn State was a key morale-booster after a tough start to the season. 

“We have only been playing Division I lacrosse for 10 years,” Conry said. “It is 10 good years, but you look at who we are playing against and the tradition they have. So, it is important for us to understand that once you get one of these nice wins, you realize that we belong here. 

“We may be kind of a little bit young, but we are here, and we belong here. And that’s the most important key. Once you feel that belonging, once you get one of these under your belt, things can kind of get rolling.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

To get the best stories from The Michigan Daily delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter here and our weekly newsletter here.