Coming off a drubbing of Robert Morris, the Michigan Wolverines entered their first-ever postseason against the Fairfield Stags on Thursday, and came out ready to make a statement.
At the end of the first half, Michigan had only nine saves to Fairfield's 12, but Robbie Zonino's saves were the story. Due to goalkeeper Gerald Logan being sidelined with an injury, there were a lot of questions for Michigan lacrosse even before a game was played this season. Zonino has been doing an admirable job replacing him, and his performance in the first half of Thursday's game was stellar. Sure, he let two scores go by him, one of which was a bounce shot that would have been difficult for anyone to stop, but kick-saves and head-standing were where he excelled. The pipe was also his friend for a while.
Offensively, it was Ian King who put the first score on the board for either team. His score gave him his 31st goal of the season, adding to his scoring record. He was able to keep things close for Michigan once again, by scoring on a breakaway goal with 9:30 to go in the third quarter, bringing the score to 4-2 in favor of Fairfield.
The Stags' Shawn Honovich pushed their lead to three once again before Riley Kennedy showed us that Michigan wasn't going to give up very easily. Or so you would think. Fairfield would come out and score five of the next six goals in the match to put Michigan in an ever-deeper hole.
In my preview piece, I indicated that Colin McLinden was the player Michigan would need to keep an eye on because of his ability to feed others on his team. The assists were instead the territory of Tristan Sperry, who finished with three. McLinden took care of the scoring by finding the net four times on nine shots and had no assists. If not for Fairfield's seven-goal fourth quarter, the Wolverines may have had a better chance, but Michigan ultimately lost the game 12-5, which isn't too far off of my 12-9 prediction.
As the game went on, there were a couple issues that really stood out to me:
- The defense just could not maintain the pace with which they started the game. Is that a question of conditioning, or a testament to how well Fairfield caught on to what Michigan was doing?
- The offense started taking quick and questionable shots from the midfield in the second half. They were playing well enough to keep the score respectable, but it looked as though they started to panic offensively due to what was happening with the defense.
At the end of the contest, the universe made the thing happen that it wanted to happen--Michigan walked away in defeat, but it was a still a victory in the grand scheme of things.
Although the stats from Thursday's game are important, I'm only going to link to them here. There is a larger story about Michigan that makes detailing the stats seem somewhat irrelevant.
A lot can be said for how this team played in 2014. They met up with six ranked teams and six teams from last year's NCAA Tournament and were able to hold their own surprisingly well, if not necessarily consistently. Yet the season was indeed a resounding success. Coach John Paul has done a magnificent job scheduling tough opponents in order to build experience and confidence. His team's win totals from one game in each of the first two seasons to five in year three is astounding.
Whatever the circumstances, they were able to make it to the post season after only three years as a D-I program. Everyone associated with the team, all the way down to the fans, should be proud of what the team was able to accomplish in 2014.
What does the future hold?
With a freshman like Ian King leading the team in his first year, it is very clear that respectability has been attained. They may remain at Level: Respectable for the next year or two, but with the youth and talent on the team, the next step will be Level: Worthy Foe with wins against all of the teams that "should" be beaten, and perhaps one or two against big-time competition. Within the next four to five years, Michigan will be at Level: Elite, a contender in the B1G, and a visitor to the NCAAs.
If Zach allows me to stick around for another year, stay tuned to MnB; next season is going to be exciting as hell with Maryland, Rutgers, and Johns Hopkins in the Big Ten. I'm hoping to work with the other blogs in the conference in order to continue building support for the game, the league, and of course our Michigan Wolverines. Go Blue!