After outscoring No. 4 Maryland 6-5 in the fourth quarter of its 20-9 loss last week, the Michigan men’s lacrosse team picked up right where it left off when it faced Johns Hopkins on Saturday afternoon.
In the opening quarter, the Wolverines’ defense clamped down on the Blue Jays, forcing five turnovers and limiting their offensive unit to only one goal. On the offensive end, things were firing on all cylinders for Michigan. Freshman attackman Michael Boehm scored a highlight-reel goal while diving into the crease, and sophomore midfielders Michael Cosgrove and Jacob Jackson notched tallies of their own. By the quarter’s end, the Wolverines stood tall with a 3-1 lead.
But in the subsequent stanzas — in large part due to a myriad of mental gaffes and self-induced turnovers — Michigan ceded control of the game to Johns Hopkins, and the Blue Jays ran away with it on the back of attackman Joey Epstein, who netted six goals. Outpacing the Wolverines (0-2), 13-4, in the next three quarters, Johns Hopkins (1-1) soared to a 14-7 victory in Michigan’s home opener, giving coach Peter Milliman his first win with the Blue Jays.
“We had 21 turnovers,” Wolverines’ coach Kevin Conry said. “You want to see the game, there it is. Twenty-one turnovers. … That’s a lot of second-chance opportunities (for an opponent). I don’t think we’re in good enough shape, defensively, to handle that.”
For a brief portion of the second quarter, Michigan stayed the course. In response to a rocket inside from Johns Hopkins attackman Brendan Grimes, Boehm dodged from behind the cage and scored his second goal of the day to re-establish the Wolverines’ two-goal lead. From there, though, an opportunistic Blue Jays’ offense began to capitalize on the numerous Michigan errors which ensued.
On the extra-man opportunity following a push from Wolverine junior defenseman Andrew Darby, a wide-open Epstein fired a shot into the top right corner of the net past junior goaltender John Kiracofe, cutting Michigan’s advantage to one. Epstein’s tally was the first of four goals that Johns Hopkins would score on man-up throughout the contest.
Four minutes later, Epstein rattled off a pair of goals within a minute to give the Blue Jays their first lead of the day, 5-4.
For the Wolverines, the composure and confidence that were so evident during the first quarter performance had vanished by the midpoint of the second. Desperate to keep up with Johns Hopkins as it watched its lead slip away, Michigan began to force its passes and shots, resulting in six turnovers and three failed clears.
“We’re just not playing well,” Conry said. “That’s it. We’re turning the ball over consistently. We’re not in good spots. We’re not getting the right guys the ball at the right time. We have to do a better job, and I have to do a better job putting these guys in good spots.”
While a buzzer-beating, underhand laser from graduate midfielder Avery Myers breathed some life into the Wolverines’ sideline heading into halftime, it paid no dividends, as their woes would carry over into the second half as well.
Michigan began the third quarter with five consecutive possessions that ended in turnovers. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays opened the floodgates, piling on six goals to jump out to a commanding 12-5 lead. Playing from behind against a storied program like Johns Hopkins, the Wolverines — particularly their underclassmen, who comprise six of the 10 starting lineup spots — were visibly flustered and struggled to get into any type of groove. Sophomore attackman Josh Zawada, who recorded an astounding five points against Maryland, failed to score and racked up three turnovers. With one second remaining in the third quarter, frustration had seemingly boiled over when freshman midfielder Kyle Stephenson hit a Blue Jays player and was charged with an unnecessary roughness penalty.
“I love their energy,” Conry said of his freshmen and sophomores. “They’re energy guys. … (But) just settling those guys down is the biggest thing.”
Added Myers: “I think the biggest thing for me is just making them understand that, although this is Big Ten lacrosse, (although) this is Division I, it’s stuff they’ve done before. They gotta have confidence in their stick skills. They’re here for a reason.”
While Michigan hoped to come away with a win against a Johns Hopkins program that underwent a coaching change this offseason and has fallen off a bit in recent years, it was ultimately its own worst enemy on Saturday. Missed defensive assignments, turnovers and penalties gave the Blue Jays too many opportunities to take advantage of, and it all proved to be too much for the Wolverines’ youth to overcome.
But with such an inexperienced roster navigating a brutal Big Ten-only schedule this season, these growing pains are to be expected early on.
“We have to have patience,” Conry said. “We still haven’t seen the best version of who we are, and I’m still excited about this team. … It’s just, right now, we’re making too many mistakes at key moments.
“And that’s what’s killing us.”
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.