Michigan enters year six having bid farewell to its first full recruiting class, and it’s time for the rubber to meet the road in terms of getting results. No longer is this a nascent program led by primarily club players, walk-ons, and late recruits. The Maize and Blue boast four seniors (one a fifth-year transfer), two juniors, three sophomores (on a transfer), and four freshmen who were among the top 100 recruits in their respective classes.
After going 1-13 in the first two seasons, they improved to 5-11 and 5-8 over the next two years before stumbling to 3-10 (with at least two bad losses) last year. The schedule sets up nicely to give them a chance to get back on the upward trajectory, and the talent must take over to reach expectations.
Despite losing two of last year’s top three scorers from the attack unit (including all-time leading scorer Kyle Jackson), this should be a solid group. Senior Ian King should take over the mantle as No. 1 all-time with a healthy year, and he had a solid reinvention as a feeder last season after previously being mostly a finisher. He finished with 13 goals and 16 assists despite missing two contests last year – but without Jackson to put the ball in the net, may go back to shooting for himself more frequently.
Beyond King, the returning production is limited. Junior Pat Tracy scored two goals and recorded five assists in nine appearances last year, while sophomores Brent Noseworthy and Rocco Sutherland had six and five points, respectively. The lefty Noseworthy was a finisher on the man-up unit, with two of his six goals with the extra man, and got his production in just seven appearances (to Sutherland’s 11). He may be able to be the finisher that allows King to continue his distribution. Senior Andrew Roswell should also see a bit of time.
This is a position group where a new face could make an impact. Freshman Hank Adams is one of those high-powered recruits, the No. 86 freshman in the country, according to Inside Lacrosse. The Colorado native is just a little guy at 5-7, 175 pounds, but a good lefty finisher and dodger.
This is another position group that lost some key players (namely Sean McCanna and Mike Hernandez), but it returns a larger set of established players. Sophomore Decker Curran was the top-scoring player among midfielders last year, albeit with just 15 points, and although senior Mikie Schlosser had a down year last season (just eight points on .179 shooting, both career lows), he’s one of the more impressive physical specimens in midfield.
The third player on the line is a spot up for grabs in a serious way. Sophomore Justin Gibbons (four goals in seven appearances), junior PJ Bogle (one goal in eight appearances), Brandon Shima (scoreless in three games), and BJ Mattheiss (scoreless in two) are the only returning players who saw action last year. A few primarily defensive midfielders may make a bit of a transition to more of a two-way role, but expect new names to step up. Whether that’s those already on the roster – Teddy Bettencourt and JP Sorenson didn’t play last year – or incoming players remains to be seen, though it’s likely the new faces will the the ones.
Fortunately, two incoming midfielders were among the highly regarded prospects in the 2016 class, with Avery Myers No. 38 and Christian Ford No. 65 nationally, according to IL. Both ave good size and should be game-ready.
The Wolverines lost four-year starter Brad Lott, who had his best year as a senior and was a major asset for the team. Junior Mike McDonnell got some time in relief last year, but was a sub-.500 performer and may not be the final answer, though he’ll be able to contribute.
Incoming transfer Jack Olson didn’t take a single draw for the Blue Jays last year (and only made it into one game), despite being the No. 52 overall recruit in the 2015 class. Michigan will have to hope that his sophomore year shows why he was so highly-touted out of high school, rather than why he couldn’t get on the field last year. Hop had good-not-great faceoffs last year, so if there was any chance he would have been able to compete, Olson probably would have gotten a chance.
Incoming freshman Matt Dellacroce is a prospect the coaches were very excited about when he committed, so we’ll see if the battle is ultimately between him and Olson.
Chase Young is the top returning short-stick D-midfielder, and he even had a bit of offensive production with a couple goals and an assist last year, as well. He’s not an intimidator at 5-9, 165, but enters his junior year with two seasons of solid performance under his belt. Senior Christian Wolter and junior Parker McKee were both regularly used last year, as well, and should compete to be full-time players on the defensive midfield.
The LSM position loses Chase Brown, who was one of the most productive defensive players in the early stages of the Michigan program. However, his backup, Nick DeCaprio, got plenty of time in relief as a freshman, and should be able to step up in year two. Freshman JM Priddy was not a top-100 recruit, but is expected to be a contributor, as well.
Chase Brown, Charlie Keady, and Chris Walker have all departed, leaving a defensive unit that will need a bit of re-tooling. Andrew Hatton is the top returner, though he missed some time last year due to injury and was primarily on the second team. Fellow senior Stefan Bergman is a similar story, though he made appearances in even fewer games. sophomore MJ Melillo actually had the most ground balls of the three last season, and should be able to make greater strides in his second year than the others will heading into their fourth.
Junior Eric Smith has received sparing playing time, but it’s possible that the arrival of a fresh face (fifth-year Virginia transfer) in his older brother Dickson Smith provides a bit of chemistry that helps him play a bigger role. Dickson played in 11 of 14 games for the Cavs last year, and while he wasn’t a major contributor, stepping into a team like Michigan rather than a perennial power should help him see the field.
Finn Goonan is not only an all-name team nominee, but also the most highly regarded of the incoming freshmen at this unit, and already 6-1, 195, he doesn’t have much physical adapting to be game-ready and an intimidator.
One of the most underrated goalies of the past few years nationally was Gerald Logan, who stood on his head frequently despite defensive breakdowns. He’s off to play his final year at Johns Hopkins, though, so backup Robbie Zonino will step into the top role that he occupied as a freshman (when Logan missed the year with injury). He saw time in just two games last year after seven as a sophomore, so the trajectory does not look great even before you take into account his .214 save percentage last year.
There are plenty of other talented players available, though. Redshirt sophomore Tommy Heidt was a highly-touted recruit (No. 17 nationally), but has battled injury over the past two years and has yet to establish himself. Sophomore Gunner Garn has yet to see the field at all. Top it all off with incoming freshman Matt Trowbridge – the No. 31 freshman in the nation – and there are plenty of bullets in the chamber.
There are plenty of questions about this team because of departed key contributors. Can anyone step up at faceoff? Will Robbie Zonino have a good year with the starting gig to himself, or be beaten out by a younger keeper? Who is going to score for this team?
There have been some stylistic changes in the past couple seasons, too. Under former offensive coordinator Ryan Danehy, the Wolverines took very few shots, but had an outstanding shooting percentage. They were overly cautious in pulling the trigger, but you knew when they shot, it was a good opportunity. Under Conor Ford, they’re less turnover-prone (instead of trying to force the ball to the best high-percentage look), and shooting more frequently with less success per shot. A happy medium between the two extremes is probably needed here.
Defensively, the team was a bit of a mess last year, despite having an extremely good goalie. How much of it is simply not having the athletes to execute the defense? They were certainly experienced, with seniors littering the lineup. Will more highly touted recruits have the ability to perform better, even if they don’t have the time in the system? They’ll have to, because another poor year from the six in front of the goalie will be far less likely to have that goalie bail them out.
I’ll break down the schedule in more detail at a later date but there’s a good chance to see the record get better even if the team only makes incremental improvement. The Big Ten is going to be tough, but the two toughest games are on the road… meaning that the three easier games (especially given the injury to Rutgers star Adam Charalambides) are at home. U-M should be able to steal one of the three.
There’s only one other ranked team pre-season on the schedule, and that’s Notre Dame. If you assume losses at Maryland and Hopkins, and one at Notre Dame, then stealing at least one of the three home Big Ten games, taking care of business in the rest of the non-conference schedule should be able to pull together a solid record.
Cleveland State is an expansion program that will be playing its first game when the Wolverines come to town. Lafayette was a poor team last year, and has the added disadvantage of taking on Michigan in Oosterbaan. UDM and Bellarmine are long-time U-M rivals that they theoretically should have move past from a talent perspective by now. Mercer and Furman are relatively new programs, and though they’re building, Michigan is undefeated against them thus far in Division-1 existence. UMBC will have to make big strides, and Penn knocked the Wolverines off by two goals in Philly last year, so a trip to Ann Arbor may even things up a bit.
We’ve seen this team struggle against squads that shouldn’t give it trouble (though we’ve also seen the opposite, such as last year’s heart-breaker against Maryland), so you can obviously never count wins and losses before the season, but this should be a good bounce-back year.