Kate Hua/Daily. Buy this photo.

After a competitive first quarter, No. 5 Rutgers (3-0 Big Ten) propelled themselves to a blowout 22-12 win over the unranked Michigan men’s lacrosse team (0-3 Big Ten) Saturday afternoon. The Scarlet Knights were led by an onslaught of precise passes, fast-break opportunities and stellar goaltending.

Rutgers struck early, recording two goals in the game’s opening moments. After a sloppy performance last weekend against Johns Hopkins, the Wolverines appeared to be headed in the same direction. Coach Kevin Conry instantly called a timeout to gather his players. Michigan proceeded to get a defensive stop, and on the offensive end, freshman attackman Michael Boehm delivered an excellent feed to sophomore attackman Josh Zawada for its first goal. 

Shortly after, the Wolverines had an early extra-man opportunity. They capitalized on an Avery Myers shot, one of the team’s four man-up goals on the day. After Rutgers regained the lead, Michigan struck back. Sophomore midfielder Jake Bonomi dodged from the top right and maneuvered his way into shooting position. 

To start the 2nd quarter, Boehm buried a rebound from sophomore midfielder Jacob Jackson and cut the deficit to 6-5. From there, however, it was all Scarlet Knights. They went on a quick four-goal run before the Wolverines eventually responded. Michigan’s offense went quiet and Rutgers generated some easy fast-break goals. Still, Conry was optimistic about his offense.

“At times it was flashes of brilliance,” Conry said. “We put in a new offense this week to promote some more off-ball movement. We’re not as scripted, we’re more free-flowing.”

That loosely-structured offense was particularly beneficial to Jackson, who had his first career hat trick. 

 “(The new offense) fit our personnel much better,” Jackson said. “It was a good outing compared to Hopkins. The offense was a little bit better today.”

Michigan went into the locker room trailing 12-7, a comeback that seemed challenging, but not insurmountable. Despite the offensive production, the Wolverines did not receive much help from their defense. Rutgers went on to score an overwhelming eight third-quarter goals. Going into the fourth, the Scarlet Knights were in cruise control with a 20-9 lead. 

Saturday was not ideal for the Wolverines, but early-season struggles have not deterred their motivation.

“We have a very proud group,” Conry said. “They know they haven’t played their best. We’re still going.”

Rutgers’ talented and veteran offense took advantage of the young, inexperienced Michigan defenders. The Wolverines threw an array of looks at the Scarlet Knights, including multiple possessions where they ran a zone defense. Regardless of what they did, Rutgers seemingly always had an answer. 

“We just weren’t getting as many saves as we were hoping, specifically early,” Conry said. “It’s still a work in progress.”

Despite a tough outing, Conry did have high praise for his freshmen long poles.

“Those kids are growing up. Brendan McCabe is going to be a great player. Jack Whitney is going to be a great player,” Conry said. “Next week, they’re gonna be a little faster.”

Added Jackson: “We’ve got a whole bunch of freshmen out there. It’s their first time playing in the Big Ten. We’re finding our way. The wins will come.”

One of the lone bright spots for the Wolverines was junior face-off specialist Nick Rowlett. He was 25-for-38 at the center X and scooped up 16 ground balls. Both marks set a school record. His statistics were remarkable, but what was even more impressive was his relentless effort and never-say-die attitude.

“It’s an incredible accomplishment,” Conry said. “That kid is an absolute warrior. He’s the heart and soul of our team.”

If the team is going to turn their season around, contributions from older leaders like Rowlett will be critical. Saturday, though, those contributions alone weren’t nearly enough.

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.

For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.