With five minutes left in the first half of its bout with No. 10 Maryland, the No. 17 Michigan women’s lacrosse team found itself leading, 5-4. The game had the appearance of a back-and-forth battle, as the upset-minded Wolverines forced the Terrapins into sloppy play at various points.
Five minutes and four Maryland goals later, though, Michigan trailed, 8-4. Two goals from midfielder Hannah Warther and a goal each from attackers Libby May and Hannah Leubecker turned the ranked matchup on its head. The Wolverines (0-3) never recovered, losing by a final score of 12-9.
“We played a great 25 minutes,” Michigan coach Hannah Nielsen said. “We came out strong and took a 4-1 lead. The problem is that we cracked in the last five minutes and dug ourselves a hole.”
“Cracked” was a word Nielsen used repeatedly when describing the Wolverines’ performance after Sunday’s game. She used it to talk about how, in its first three games, they have tended to have five to seven minute lapses. According to Nielsen, these lapses have been characterized by unforced errors and critical turnovers, which have dug the sort of hole that Michigan found itself in as Sunday’s halftime whistle blew.
The Wolverines’ lapses are problematic for a team’s winning chances in general, but such blunders are further exacerbated when playing a team of Maryland’s caliber.
“When you play a team like Maryland, you have to be dialed in for the whole 60,” Nielsen said.
Looking further into the details of Sunday’s matchup, Nielsen’s point is obvious. Aside from the run of goals at the end of the first half, the Terrapins also dealt rapid damage to Michigan with three goals in just over two minutes midway through the second half.
Midfielder Grace Griffin, attacker Victoria Hensh and Leubecker’s goals came in such quick succession that it seemed as though Michigan never even had a possession.
This is indicative of the talent on Maryland’s roster, the kind of talent that can bury excellent performances by opponents by capitalizing on even the smallest series of mistakes.
Michigan junior midfielder Kaitlyn Mead had one such performance, scoring a hat-trick that included the Wolverines’ last goal before the Terrapins’ second half scoring frenzy.
“Kaitlyn (Mead) had an incredible game today,” Nielsen said. “She put the team on her back at points.”
Mead’s performance represented the sort of bright spot that teams look for after a loss like the one Michigan suffered on Sunday. Mead herself is focusing on moving forward following the team’s third loss in three games to start the season.
“This was not the beginning of the season we wanted,” Mead said. “But Maryland is a great team, and all we can do is learn from it and come back against Rutgers. We need to learn from what we did wrong and get going. Stick to what we usually do.”
It is all well and good for a team to focus on moving forward after a loss against a top-10 opponent like Maryland, but if the Wolverines want to recover from what was a sloppily played game and reach the high expectations thrust on them to start the season, they need to focus on actionable change.
And that’s exactly what Nielsen plans on doing.
“We need to find ways in practice to put them in more pressure,” Nielsen said. “We come out strong, but when the other team turns it on, we crack. It’s five to seven minutes at the end of a 30 minute half that we tend to lapse and put ourselves in a hole.
“What we need to work on is staying dialed in for a whole 30 minutes, so we’re not always having to play catchup lacrosse.”
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