Heading into its tilt with No. 5 Maryland, the season opener for what is to be a fierce Big Ten conference-only schedule in 2021, the Michigan men’s lacrosse team knew it was going to have its hands full.
With just 10 days of practice under their belts, due to the University’s 14-day pause on all athletic activities, it was going to be challenging for the Wolverines to contain a tenacious Terrapin offense spearheaded by battle-tested veterans like two-time All-Big Ten attackman Jared Bernhardt and midfielders Logan Wisnauskas and Bubba Fairman. It proved to be exactly that.
In spite of a phenomenal four-goal performance by sophomore attackman Josh Zawada and three-point debut by freshman attackman Michael Boehm, Michigan (0-1) ultimately fell victim to Maryland’s (1-0) immense depth. The Wolverines sacrificed tallies from 11 different goal-scorers, including five goals from attackman Daniel Maltz, en route to a 20-9 loss — the Terrapins’ largest margin of victory since 1983 and the most goals they have scored in a game since joining the Big Ten.
“These guys have been practicing at a high level for a long time,” Michigan coach Kevin Conry said of Maryland. “They’ve had a lot of success. They returned a lot of really great players. So, it was an uphill battle to begin with.”
A minute into the first quarter, the Terrapins jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead when midfielder Kyle Long dodged down the left side of the field and placed a shot in the top right corner of the net past Wolverine junior goaltender John Kiracofe. Seven minutes later, Zawada beat Maryland defenseman Matt Rahill on an inside roll to even the score, marking the first and only time the game would be tied. The Terrapins subsequently rattled off four consecutive goals, including a pair of contributions from Wisnauskas, to close out the quarter and solidify a 5-1 lead.
While a low-to-high rocket from Zawada on a Michigan man-up opportunity helped the Wolverines regain their footing briefly, Maryland continued to pile on goals in the second quarter.
A beneficiary of two Michigan penalties, Maltz netted three goals within five minutes of one another. While the Wolverine defense did an impressive job stymieing Bernhardt and Fairman, diverting extra attention to the pair opened up opportunities for other Terrapins, like Maltz, to strike.
“We came in with the plan that nobody corrals those guys as individuals,” Conry said. “So we were able to slide and recover and allow them to spit the ball around. … We felt, six-on-six-wise, pretty comfortable that we could defend them. It’s just when you have to defend them twice or three times (in a row), or in odd situations or on special teams. That’s when their talent really took over.”
At halftime, Maryland sat comfortably with a 10-2 lead.
In the third quarter, Bernhardt finally broke free. Just two minutes into the second half, he fired a shot on Kiracofe’s doorstep to extend his goal-scoring streak to 27 games. Later in the quarter, Bernhardt also netted a backhand goal and dished out assists to midfielder Jack Koras and Fairman, helping the Terrapins extend their lead, 15-3.
Meanwhile, the bulk of Michigan’s offensive unit struggled. Perennial contributors like senior attackman Kevin Mack, senior midfielder Alex Buckanavage and junior attackman Bryce Clay were kept relatively silent. On Saturday, Mack saw his 33-game point streak, which dated back to his freshman year, come to an end.
In addition, miscues impeded Michigan from establishing momentum. Despite stellar faceoff play by junior faceoff midfielder Nick Rowlett, who went 15-of-18 at the dot, the Wolverines struggled to hold onto possessions. In the second half, they racked up 11 turnovers and successfully cleared the ball just 50% of the time.
The Wolverines saw a glimmer of hope for what could be a bright future in the game’s final stanza, though. Although a comeback was out of reach, Michigan pressed on and outscored Maryland 6-5 in the fourth quarter. In a two-minute span, a flurry of four goals from Zawada and Boehm displayed the adversity and goal-scoring capabilities of the Wolverines’ youth despite their limited in-game experience.
“We don’t know how good those guys could be, but you get them out there — they’re electric,” Conry said. “Right now, they fought and that’s all we really asked them to do. … I’m proud of those guys for sticking it out there in the fourth quarter and making some tough plays.”
While the Terrapins got the better of Michigan in their season opener, it remains to be seen what both teams will look like when they face off again in the latter half of the season. Once the Wolverines straighten out their kinks and their underclassmen develop a better understanding of what it is like to play in the Big Ten, it is unlikely that Maryland will walk away with such a commanding win again.
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