For many years, there was a sense in men’s college lacrosse that a Big Ten school like Ohio State or Penn State would emerge and become a dominant power.
That sense was correct, but the school was wrong.
No. 4 seed Michigan scored four straight goals in the final 10 minutes of the second quarter to take control and easily defeated No. 3 seed Maryland, 14-5, in the Big Ten championship game Saturday before an announced 3,400 at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field.
After the game, Michigan players poured onto the field and exchanged hugs and high fives. It was well deserved, especially for coach Kevin Conry, who in six seasons at the school had compiled a 34-41 record.
“We’re Big Ten champions, that’s pretty unbelievable. Last year we didn’t win a conference game,” Conry said of the team’s conference record. “The year before we won like two games and the year before that, one. These guys stayed. They found it, put it on their back and became champions. We have a saying back home: ‘Those who stay will become champions.’”
Conry didn’t want to talk about the big picture. He and his players were in that surreal mode, still thinking about what just happened. But there was a belief that a Big Ten team could become a recruiting power if successful, especially with its facilities and big-time football programs.
Penn State and Ohio State had their runs, but couldn’t sustain long-term success, much less dominance.
Michigan overwhelmed a Maryland team that appeared in disarray on both sides of the ball. Maryland couldn’t contain Michigan attackmen Michael Boehm (five goals), Bryce Clay (four goals, two assists) or Josh Zawada (two goals, four assists). Offensively, the Terps outshot Michigan, 40-33, but the shot selection was poor and lacked discipline. Maryland went more than 40 minutes without a goal.
“Honestly, it wasn’t about them, it was about us,” Clay said. “We just wanted to do what we do; the little things the right way and the ball is going to fall into the back of the net.”
Maryland was trying to win its fifth Big Ten championship since it joined the conference in 2015, including titles in 2021 and 2022. But the Terps were a step slow all game, and the win by Michigan was no fluke.
Conry entered 1-6 against Maryland during his tenure but had beaten the Terps, 16-11, on April 1. Maryland was without its top one-on-one defenseman, Ajax Zappitello, on Saturday because of an arm injury, but even he wouldn’t have made that much of a difference.
“We had an opportunity to get off to a good start, get in good flow and we never did,” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “We put a lot of pressure on our defense, and they took advantage of it whether it was leaving a guy open, our approach and attack, whatever. Michigan has a lot of talent. They are organized, they know their looks and they are super dangerous.
“They played like an experienced group and at times we showed our youth.”
Michigan also got a strong effort from freshman goalie Hunter Taylor, who finished with 14 saves, and its starting defense of Jack Whitney, Andrew Darby and Kees “Case” Van Wees stymied Maryland all afternoon.
But Michigan simply took apart Maryland’s defense in the first two quarters as the Wolverines led 10-4 at the half. It was both a methodical and physical dissection of the Terps.
Michigan isolated and took advantage of Maryland’s lack of speed from behind the goal. When the Terps tried to pinch in and help out goalie Brian Ruppel, the Wolverines would dish off passes and find open shooters for easy goals.
Michigan took control of the game in the second quarter when, after trading goals in the first four minutes, it scored four straight to close the period, including three from Boehm.
The Terps couldn’t stop Boehm, who scored once coming from behind the goal and twice when Maryland slid to a driving player only to see him pass to a wide-open Boehm.
Boehm’s final goal of the second quarter came from about 10 yards out with 1:29 left in the half.
Michigan had a strong first period as well, jumping out to a 5-3 lead. The Terps also struggled with Clay, who had two goals in the quarter coming off screens, including one from behind the goal. Michigan went up 5-2 on a goal from midfielder Peter Thompson with 52.4 seconds left but Maryland attackman Eric Spanos bullied his way toward the crease and scored with nearly five seconds remaining to cut Michigan’s lead to 5-3.
“Our emphasis was not to give up scoring spurts like that,” Terps defenseman Brett Maker said. “But when that happens, it just makes it more difficult to come back. But we’ll take a look at the film and we have a week to prepare for our next game. You’ll see a different team next week.”
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