Michigan’s lacrosse team looked headed for an opportunity at their first Division-1 victory, building a 3-0 lead just 8:24 into their game against Air Force at Peter Barton Stadium in Denver. However, the Falcons scored the next nine goals to take control of the game, and cruised to a 15-6 win.
“We’re grinding, we’re working hard,” Michigan coach John Paul said. “After the game what we talked to the guys about is that this is a long, long journey. We’ve just got to keep taking positive steps. That’s obviously going to be our focus.”
Willie Steenland netted two goals and Doug Bryant added one of his own to spark Michigan to the three-goal lead. However, a man-up goals by Mike Crampton and Ryland De Pol and an even-strength marker for James Burke knotted the score three minutes into the second quarter.
With all of the momentum, Air Force rattled off six more goals – thanks to a 7/10 performance on faceoffs in the second quarter – before Alex Vasileff and Trevor Yealy brought Michigan back to within a 9-5 score at the half.
“There were a lot of things we were doing well in the first quarter,” said Paul. “For us, ultimately it’s about limiting total possession in the game. In the first quarter we did that, and in the rest of the game, we didn’t. During their run we didn’t, they were scoring a lot of those goals in 30-second spans.”
Air Force scored the only two goals of the third quarter, and the pace of play in the second half slowed down greatly. Alex Vasileff scored at 11:42 of the fourth to bring the score back to 13-6, but Air Force closed the scoring with two consecutive man-up goals bring about the 15-6 final.
Attack Keith Dreyer starred for the Falcons, scoring three goals and assisting on four more to lead all scorers with seven points. Midfielder Erik Smith had five assists, while Mike Crampton and Ryland De Pol each had two goals and two assists for Air Force. Holt native Tommy KcKee was mostly kept off the scoreboard, notching only one shot in the game. 14 of the Falcons’ 15 goals were assisted.
“Everything’s a tough matchup for [our defense,” said Paul. “The way that we’re playing right now, we’re going to slide a lot. When you slide a lot, and you slide as early as we’re sliding, you’re going to leave stuff open on the backside, so it’s all about recovery. And when we’re playing that way, you’re not gonna see unassisted goals.”
Sloppy play once again was the name of the game for Michigan. Although they committed fewer turnovers than the Falcons, the giveaways came at key times to sap the Wolverines’ momentum. Air Force also converted on all four of their man-up opportunities, including two early chances that helped stem Michigan’s early momentum.
“We promptly went out, rushed something offensively, rushed a shot on man-up, got a penalty, and that’s what I’m talking about,” Paul said. “We got out of our rhythm, not doing the things we needed to do, and give them some momentum, and that’s when it turned. We never got deflated, and that’s one thing I’m really proud of. The guys stayed up, they stayed on each other and they kept working.”
Effort didn’t result in scores for the Wolverines, however. After scoring three goals in the game’s opening nine minutes, the Wolverines were held off the board until the final two minutes of the half, and only added one more goal, after the game was well out of reach.
“In the second half our offense has really struggled to find the looks we wanted,” Paul said. “They made some saves, and we started turning the ball over. We weren’t turning the ball over in the first half, in the second half we were.”
The clear – which struggled to a .611 success rate the previous day against Denver – was much improved. Michigan advanced 14 of their 16 opportunities into the offensive box.
“We cleared really well today,” said Paul. “They threw about four different rides at us, we had made some adjustments, and we cleared really well.”
With the loss, Michigan moves to 0-4 on the season, with another two-game weekend on the docket. They will travel to Florida to take on Jacksonville on Friday and Mercer on Sunday. With a loss to Air Force under their belt, the Sunday contest against the Bears – who have yet to win a game against a Division-1 program in their two years – could be the last opportunity for a victory for the Wolverines’ Team One.
“It was a pretty down locker room,” said Paul, “but I think the guys believe in what we’re doing, and we’re gonna keep grinding.”
Tempo-free analysis and other bloggy goodness coming later in the week.