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No. 1 Maryland men’s lacrosse at Michigan preview

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The Terps’ Big Ten slate continues with a matchup against the Wolverines.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Last Sunday, No. 1 Maryland men’s lacrosse improved its overall record to 8-0 and got its first Big Ten win of the season with a commanding 18-7 victory at Penn State.

Graduate attacker Keegan Khan stayed hot with his second straight game with four goals and fifth-year midfielder Logan Wisnauskas had a career-high four assists, moving him just eight points shy of the all-time Maryland career points record.

For its second of three Big Ten road games this season, the Terps will travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan on Saturday to take on the Michigan Wolverines. Conference games have a different feel than nonconference games and graduate midfielder Jonathan Donville has felt that in the Ivy League with Cornell and now in the Big Ten with Maryland.

“The Big Ten is super competitive and everyone can beat anyone on a given day,” Donville said. “That shows itself in how intense the games are.”

History favors the Terps for Saturday’s matchup. Maryland is 9-0 all-time against the Wolverines and Michigan has never beaten a team ranked at the No. 1 spot. These teams most recently met in the 2021 Big Ten tournament semifinals, which was a 16-8 win for the Terps behind an astounding eight goals from Jared Bernhardt.

Saturday’s game will start at noon and can be streamed on Big Ten Network Plus.

Michigan Wolverines (7-3, 0-1 Big Ten)

2021 record: 3-9, 2-8 Big Ten

Head coach Kevin Conry is in his fifth season as head coach at Michigan after spending five years in College Park. Conry became Maryland’s defensive coordinator for the 2013 season and held that position for five years, including the final two where he was also an associate head coach for the Terps. His last season with Maryland was with the 2017 national championship squad. At Michigan, Conry has been building up a program that is only in its 11th season of existence and is still yet to make the NCAA Tournament. Conry’s team won a school-record eight games in 2018 and this year’s team looks to be Michigan’s best chance since to break that record.

Michigan started the 2022 season by winning its first seven games, including 20-goal performances in each of the first four games to start the season. Michigan was aided by a relatively weak schedule, however, with its best win coming against then-No. 17 Delaware, a team that is no longer ranked. The Wolverines have struggled against more difficult competition, falling against No. 10 Harvard and No. 16 Notre Dame before losing their Big Ten opener against Johns Hopkins 15-12. Now, Michigan will need to turn things around quickly if they want to have a chance at keeping their postseason dreams alive.

Players to watch

Josh Zawada, junior attacker, No. 9 — Josh Zawada is Michigan’s leading scorer and has turned himself into one of the nation’s most effective offensive threats. Through 10 games this season, Zawada has 34 goals and 25 assists and is only 15 points away from setting the Michigan program record for career points. In three separate games this season, Zawada has registered at least 10 points. He ranks fifth in Lacrosse Reference’s statistical Tewaaraton with 39.98 expected goals added.

Michael Boehm, sophomore attacker, No. 5 — If Zawada didn’t play for the Wolverines, Michael Boehm would have a case for the best attacker in school history. He has 50 points this season, which is already the second-most a Wolverine has ever had in a season only trailing the 59 points Zawada has this year. Boehm is averaging five points per game and won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week after his four-goal performance against Delaware, one of his seven hat tricks this season.

“Offensively, they’re good,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said of Michigan’s star attackmen. “​​Zawada and Boehm, they gave us problems last year.”

Shane Carr, sophomore goalie, No. 41 — Shane Carr currently ranks fourth nationally in goals allowed average, giving up less than nine goals per game. He is also fifth in save percentage at 58.5 percent. Carr has been a brick wall at times for the Wolverines this season and hasn’t looked fazed in his first year as the team’s starter. This Maryland attack will be the toughest challenge of his career so far, but if Carr is able to show out for Michigan it could be frustrating for a Maryland team that has scored at least 11 goals in every game this season.

Strength

Faceoff tandem. Michigan has the nation’s seventh-highest faceoff winning percentage at 60.6 percent. They are led by sophomore Justin Wietfeldt and junior Nick Rowlett, who both split time on faceoffs. Both are among the nation’s top-20 in terms of faceoff winning percentage, with Wietfeldt ranking fourth and Rowlett ranking 18th. Michigan’s ability to give itself different looks on faceoffs has been key in its offensive success.

“You’re seeing two really good faceoff guys,” Tillman said. “They have a two-headed monster up there.”

Maryland junior faceoff specialist Luke Wierman, who has been sensational this season with a near-70 percent faceoff winning percentage, might have his toughest assignment of the regular season on Saturday given Michigan’s depth. Junior Gavin Tygh could also see more opportunities as Maryland’s second faceoff option against the Wolverines.

Weakness

Performance against quality competition. All but one of Michigan’s seven wins this season have come against teams ranked 59th or lower in RPI. They lost by five goals to both Notre Dame and Harvard (the two teams they’ve played that are currently ranked) and lost at Johns Hopkins last week. Despite having seven wins just 10 games into the season, Michigan still ranks 29th in Lacrosse Reference’s Strength of Record statistic. Saturday’s game poses a major challenge to the Wolverines, but it also provides an opportunity to prove they can hang with the nation’s best.

Three things to watch

1. Sharing is caring. Both Maryland and Michigan are top-three in the country in points per game, with Maryland averaging 28.5 points per game and Michigan averaging 25.6. Michigan and Maryland are both top-five in assists per game and their top goal scorers both have over 20 assists on the season. The quick passing and sharp ball movement that the Terps and Wolverines have been adept at means that there should be plenty of assisted goals on Saturday that will require a full team effort to score.

2. Interstate travel. Saturday’s game will mark the final time until potential NCAA Tournament games that the Terps will have to leave the state for a game this season. With two home games, a short drive to Baltimore for a rivalry game against Johns Hopkins and the Big Ten tournament (set to be held in College Park) left on the schedule, Maryland will get a break from the difficulties of travel for at least six weeks.

3. Staying fresh. Having made it past the two-thirds mark of the regular season and enduring a late trip back from a frigid game at Penn State last Sunday, Tillman has been faced with the challenge of preventing his team from becoming too fatigued while still keeping the intensity high.

“[The team went] to bed super late on Sunday night. With that and the bus trip the guys were more sore than normal,” Tillman said. “We’re trying to walk that fine line of getting that [preparation and] realizing it’s a long year… we want to be fresh and fast on Saturday.”

Maryland’s combination of high-intensity Big Ten battles and the fact that its reputation is going to motivate opponents is going to test the team’s fortitude both mentally and physically moving forward.