For some teams, a young squad is a problem that crops up every few years. For the Michigan men’s lacrosse team, it’s simply a fact of life.
A combination of bad luck and recruiting realities have once again demanded that coach John Paul’s Wolverines look to their freshmen for serious playing time this year.
Those underclassmen were on display on Saturday when Marquette travelled to Oosterbaan Field House for a high-scoring scrimmage that the Wolverines won, 18-9.
The loss of sophomore goaltender Gerald Logan to season-ending shoulder surgery in early January was devastating news for the team, but Michigan liked what it saw out of highly-touted freshman Robbie Zonino on Saturday. Zonino, the No. 8 goaltender recruit in the nation, held Marquette scoreless for the final 21 minutes of regulation.
“Zonino really is a gamer,” Paul said. “You come to practice and you’re probably going to think, ‘Man these guys are in trouble,’ but he’s played like this in both the games we’ve had him. He’s used to high-pressure games. He saw shooters in high school that were as good as he saw on the field today.”
Freshman Ian King was even more impressive on attack. King, who dealt with a bout of mononucleosis for much of the fall season, played a strong game, recording a hat trick and leading Michigan’s early surge.
But the performance wasn’t all rosy. After jumping out to a 6-0 lead, the Wolverines let Marquette climb all the way back in the second quarter with shaky defense. Shortly after, the Golden Eagles scored seven consecutive goals to take a 9-8 lead, and it looked like Michigan might be in the familiar situation of letting a game slip away.
Freshman Brian Archer had a rough stretch as the face-off man in the second quarter, when the team took two face off penalties and struggled to clear the ball.
“We were playing a freshman face-off guy, and he didn’t handle adversity very well,” Paul said. “He’s better than that. That’s a lesson for him, he knows.”
Marquette’s rally rattled Zonino, as he was visibly upset. Though the barrage of shots continued, the freshman did seem to regain form part way through the third quarter.
“If you put that much pressure on any goalie, he’s going to have a couple he wants back,” Paul said.
At the half, the coaches walked in to the locker room and saw redshirt senior Thomas Paras, the Wolverines’ oldest player, taking charge and calming the team down.
And Zonino looked reassured after the break, making big saves again and displaying his stick skills to help facilitate clearing the ball.
Michigan will need that sure-handed version of Zonino in net this season, as defensive struggles have been a theme of the last two years. The offensive unit, though, is both deep and talented.
“(King and Zonino) have been great since day one,” Paras said. “They’re both hard workers, and they’ve both been very approachable and coachable. That’s probably been the biggest thing.”
Junior Andrew Portnoy also put up impressive numbers on attack, scoring five times as the Wolverines widened the gap. Michigan had 10 different players net goals, and it was clear that the freshmen receiving playing time were not indicative of a lack of talent.
Freshman Andrew Roswell also looked good, scoring and working into the attack well, but King was the standout player for Michigan. A tall, lanky attack man, King showed impressive strength for his size in addition to good hands and an accurate shot.
King was also instrumental in ending the Wolverines’ scoring drought, pouring on shots and even bowling over a defender at the crease on a near miss early in the third quarter.
“Ian’s been playing well all fall and all spring in practice,” Portnoy said. “He’s really emerged.”
Michigan travels to Penn State this Saturday for their first regular season contest of the season, and though it’s clear the team has added offensive firepower, questions remain about the future of the season because of the team’s youth.
What’s certain, though, is that the Wolverines will need their new faces in the locker room to step up on the field to get wins all year long.