Michigan will start their fourth season as a D-1 program at 1 p.m. on Saturday, and will do so against former ECAC foe Bellarmine. The Wolverines and the Knights played to an 11-10 thriller capped by Michigan's Mikie Schlosser ripping the game-winning score in overtime last year. The win marked the first victory for the Wolverines in ECAC play. Now, both schools are in different conferences--Michigan in the much-anticipated Big Ten, and Bellarmine in the Southern Conference (where they've been picked to be the winner).
In last year's contest, the Knights scored five times between 1:52 to go in the first half and the first five minutes of the second half, to bring the score to 7-5 after having been down 5-2. Chad Mitchell led the way with 3 goals, and attacker Tucker Ciessau followed with two. Ciessau was the team's leading scorer and will look to hold onto that position in 2015. Working with Ciessau will be preseason All-Conference players A Austin Shanks, D Colin Hart, and LSM Bobby Schmitt. Shanks and Schmitt were contributors in last year's game, with the former notching two goals and assist, and the latter putting up one assist
According to College Crosse's Hoya Suxa, keep an eye on Bellarmine's ability to take the ball away. The Knights' Opponent Turnovers per 100 Defensive Opportunities was 53.83, which placed them first in the country.
An area where Bellarmine struggled was at the face-off, winning only 102 of 254 opportunities for a 40% success rate. Head Coach Kevin Burns noted that the addition of Jace Thomas should make an impact with his "tremendous work ethic" and "gritty toughness". BU better hope he lives up to those expectations when going up against Michigan's Brad Lott.
Let's start where we left off above: Brad Lott. The Louisville native destroyed his hometown team last season by winning 21 of 24 chances at the dot. The aforementioned Jace Thomas may be gritty, but facing off against the Michigan junior is going to be a tall task. Consider, too, that the Wolverines can also throw sophomore Will Biagi out there, and it could be a long day for the Knights and Thomas.
With 32 goals last season, Ian King is the returning offensive stud for Michigan, but the biggest story for the Wolverines is the return of goalie Gerald Logan. While Logan sat out last season with an injury, Robbie Zonino filled in and finished the season with a .459 save %. Logan finished the prior year with a .563 save %, so having his skill between the pipes could make all the difference not just in this game, but the entire season.
The key for Michigan in this game is going to be their experience. I know that's odd to say about a team in only their fourth year on the D-1 level, but they are returning some key people, like captains David McCormack and Mack Gembis. They started 30 games between them last season, and bring productivity on the offensive and defensive ends of the field: McCormack had 13 goals, but the graduation of Thomas Paras should allow for an even greater role for the senior. Gembis had 14 caused turnovers, second only to returning LSM Chase Brown's 17. The Wolverines will definitely need to improve on -9 caused turnover margin from last season. Consider, again, Logan having faced more shots than anyone in lacrosse prior to his injury, and the Wolverines could start the season 1-0 for the first time. Make no mistake, though, Bellarmine is going to be a tough team who are familiar with Michigan and will be ready to play. Although the game will probably be close, I'm not expecting an extra session; Oosterbaan fieldhouse will make the difference in a 12-9 Michigan win.