2018 Lacrosse Season Preview
That time is upon us once again! And even though its early February (and the Winter Olympics is on), lacrosse season is about to get underway. Michigan is set to turn over a new leaf in 2018 with new head coach Kevin Conry and it will be breaking in its brand new facilities down on State Street. It’s looking to put the past behind them and prove they can hang in the Big Ten which is now the best conference in the country.
Let’s take a quick look at the personnel Michigan will be putting on the field in 2018 and the competition it will face.
Michigan has had decent talent on campus for a few years now but couldn’t put it together on the field. It’s up to Coach Conry one of the hottest young coaches in the game to make it work.
Attack: the bad news is that Michigan loses its playmaker and all-time points leader Ian King from its most reliable and productive unit. But the good news is that they get to reload a few weapons from that offense. Noseworthy, a Canuck, is only a junior and has already been a significant contributor for Michigan in his first two years and will be the team's best player. He’s very much an old-school crease attackman and is a slick finisher. Rocco Sutherland is Michigan’s returning leader in assists and will be Noseworthy’s set-up man. The third attack spot could be a toss-up between senior Patrick Tracy and a pair of highly touted freshmen.
Midfield: Michigan will need to make big strides in the midfield if they want to improve. They need to take better care of the ball than they did in 2017 and generate more opportunities to take some of the burden and urgency off the attack. Junior Decker Curran can create and score and will be expected to shoulder a lot of the offensive load from the midfield. Avery Myers, Sean McCanna and PJ Bogle will all contribute at midfield as well. Chase Young returns to anchor the defensive midfield which also features budding star JM Priddy at long stick middie. But this unit also needs to see significant improvements if Michigan wants to compete.
Defense: the defense has been abysmal the last few years and a big reason why Conry was brought in. Michigan’s defense was unorganized and plagued by poor (and at times inexplicable) slides and dumb penalties. They were the worst in the country in total team defense in 2017 yielding an average of more than 11 goals a game. They also ranked near the bottom in creating turnovers. It literally can’t get worse, so there will almost certainly be improvement at that end of the field this year. But, Conry is a defensive guru: his teams at Maryland were tough, stingy and smart and routinely ranked among the nation’s best. Luckily, some of the things wrong with Michigan’s defense are an easy fix - mostly it’s just getting guys in the right spot. Junior Nick DeCaprio will anchor this year’s defensive unit; Tommy Heidt will return in goal.
Special Teams: Michigan’s man-down unit was also among the worst in the country last year (ranked 42nd) but that is expected to see major improvements under Conry. Man up-offense actually wasn’t so bad - ranked 17th nationally, but on relatively few opportunities. Face-offs, which have been a major weakness for Michigan the last few years, were also among the worst in the country. If Michigan wants to be elite they need to be great at these positions, especially at face-offs.
Last year's 8-6 campaign was nothing to scoff at, although it was the result of some scheduling voodoo by Coach John Paul. There were definitely some smoke and mirrors; the easy schedule belied a program with major structural problems. After winning 8 of their first 9, Michigan stumbled down the stretch losing their last 5, going winless in the conference and in uncompetitive fashion. That was all she wrote for JP. While last season’s record and this year’s roster give Michigan a lot to build on, they’ll have their work cut out for them. The schedule is...tough.
Michigan plays 8 teams that made last year’s NCAA tournament field including the champion and runner-up. They play 5 of the nation’s top 8 teams in this year’s preseason poll. Michigan hasn’t won a Big Ten game in years and has never qualified for the conference’s postseason. Now is as good a time as any, as Michigan hosts this year’s Big Ten tournament on May 3 and 5.
Feb. 10, Cleveland State, Home, 1PM
The Conry Era gets underway at home in the new facilities (today! at 1 PM!) against the Vikings of Cleveland State. Cleveland State is in Year 2 of its program and is coming off a 1-9 inaugural season. They faced Michigan in their first game in program history who handed them their first loss in program history. Cleveland State opened this season with a meh 13-6 defeat to Ohio State.
Prediction: this one should go Michigan’s way and give Conry a nice first W as Michigan’s head coach.
Feb. 13, Bellarmine, Home, 3 PM
Bellarmine is also a relatively new program, having started play in 2004. The Knights have been fairly meh: they’re never terrible, usually managing to win between 4 and 7 games a year and sometimes putting a scare into the likes of Denver or Ohio State. Michigan took care of them last year in a forgettable 13-5 win.
Prediction: Michigan should be too talented and athletic for Bellarmine. They should be 2-0 after this one.
Feb. 17 @ Penn, Franklin Field, Philadelphia, PA, Noon
A rematch of last year’s tilt that gave Michigan its first win over a ranked team. Penn has been very meh in recent years, often starting the season with modest hype. They often play to the level of their competition but never really threaten in the Ivy League. Michigan’s big win was a bit of a disappointment; the Quakers were #10 at the time but then lost three of their next four. Still this will be a test for Michigan. Penn returns a lot of key players from a potent 2017 offense. Michigan will have two games under its belt while it will be the opener for Penn, giving Michigan a slight advantage.
Prediction: Talentwise, Penn and Michigan should be evenly matched. It will be interesting to see how our boys respond, especially against a team that will likely be looking for some getback. It’s the first true test for Coach Conry but I give the edge to the Quakers at home.
Feb. 24 @ Yale, New Haven, CT, Noon
Michigan takes on its second straight Ivy League squad on the road, this time against a stout and talented Yale team. This might not go well for Michigan. Yale is one of the best teams in the country (#5 in the preseason poll) and they field great players at every position. The Elis will be powered by Ben Reeves a large, physical, skilled attackman who is a goal scoring machine (42 G last year). In addition to being a preseason 1st team AA, Reeves is a freaking molecular, cellular and developmental biology major. He’ll be a major test for Michigan’s defense getting used to Conry’s new system.
Prediction: It will be interesting to see how Conry prepares his players to face a superior team. But this one will be a loss for Michigan.
Mar. 3, vs. Siena, Home, Noon
After two tough ones, Michigan gets a cupcake at home before the schedule gets hard again. Despite being in the heart of lacrosse country in upstate New York, Siena has never been able to capitalize on its geographic advantage. The Saints went a respectable 11-6 in 2014 but have slipped since then, winning only three games in 2017. They’re projected to be one of the worst teams in Division 1 again this year.
Fun fact: Michigan has actually played Siena before, back in the club days. We took on Siena’s varsity outfit in 2001 during spring break in Florida and we crushed them.
Prediction: Siena is bad. Michigan should win.
Mar. 9, vs. Air Force, Home, 7 PM
Second straight home game for Michigan, a team that should be hitting its stride as it moves into the latter half of the season. The problem is: Air Force is pretty good. They went 12-6 with a fairly soft schedule last year but weirdly dropped games to Marist and Furman. They were eliminated in the first round of the NCAAs by Denver. Air Force has become a perennial contender to win its conference and has made the tournament three out of the last four years.
Prediction: Air Force should be the better team, but those two curious losses last year make me wonder if Michigan can’t spring the upset trap. Screw it, I’ll take Michigan in a close one.
Mar. 17, vs. Marquette, Home, 3 PM
This is where the schedule gets rough. Marquette, which is also a relatively new program, has been pretty impressive since starting play a few years ago. They’re coached by Joe Amplo, one of the best young coaches in the game who in the offseason was rumored to be in talks for every high-profile job (including Michigan). Marquette is a frequent tournament team now and should be on the hunt to win its 3rd straight Big East title. And they do it mostly without star players.
Prediction: They’ll be tough. Marquette should take this one.
Mar. 21, @ Notre Dame, South Bend, IN, 4 PM
Along with Yale and Maryland this is one of the hard Ls on Michigan’s schedule. ND has turned itself into a perennial Top 5 team and has come agonizingly close to winning a national championship. They’ve beaten the crap out of Michigan the few times they’ve played each other. The Irish always seem to have at least one tiny offensive wizard that runs circles around even the best defenses and this year that role will be played by Rider Garnsey. Their D and goaltending are always strong too.
Prediction: ND, fairly easily. It will be a while before Michigan reaches the same level of sustained success as the Irish. But...To Hell with Notre Dame.
Mar. 24, @ UMBC, Baltimore, MD, 3 PM
Michigan gets a brief respite during its rough stretch before diving into the brutal Big Ten schedule. But UMBC is actually not a bad team. The Retrievers went 6-8 last year and return a tough defense. They’re still breaking in a second year coach and could maybe pull a few upsets in 2018. Michigan beat them 10-7 in a tight one in the Big House last year.
Prediction: I slightly favor Michigan in this one. But it may depend on which team is improving more from last year.
Mar. 31, vs. Maryland, Home, Noon
Forget it. Defending champs. All-Americans everywhere. Physical. Well-coached. The Terps will be good as hell and just as dangerous as last year. The only thing Michigan has going for them in this one is the fact that Conry is fresh from College Park and knows Coach John Tillman’s Terps better than anyone in the country.
Apr. 8, vs. Rutgers, Home, Noon **airing on ESPNU**
Rutgers reached #1 last year after starting 8-0 which included wins over Army, Princeton and Brown. But they dropped a head-scratcher to Delaware once they got to #1 and then lost a few crucial B1G games that kept them out of the conference tournament. On Selection Sunday they found themselves sweating it out. The hard-luck Scarlet Knights got snubbed by the tournament committee for the second year in a row (and I don’t know for sure but they must be the only team to ever be ranked #1 and not make the tourney). This year, Rutgers will be strong again; they return 3 of their top 5 points leaders from 2017, including Kieran Mullins who had 8 freaking goals against Michigan last year as a freshman. And they’ll bring an outsider/underdog attitude to each game. Rutgers definitely has something to prove.
Prediction: They kicked Michigan’s ass last year. I expect Michigan to put up a better fight this year, but I give Rutgers the edge.
Apr. 14 @ Ohio State, Columbus, OH, 11 AM
A sleeping giant was awoken in Columbus last year and Michigan’s chief rivals are now among the nation’s best. Ohio State won their first 8 games in 2017 and then shocked Maryland and Hopkins. They handily dismissed Duke in the quarterfinals of the tournament to find themselves in their first Final 4. After edging Towson, they then found themselves on the verge of their first national championship, unfamiliar territory for a solid program that traditionally underperformed. They fell to Maryland in the final, 9-6 but the tourney run was a major step forward for Ohio State lacrosse. I don’t really know what to make of last year (I don’t think they do either) so we’ll see if 2017 proves to be an anomaly and if the Buckeyes revert back to their usual confusing, underachieving selves. Nick Myers is a great young coach, however, and they have athletes all over the field including Canadian attackman Tre Leclair who scored 50(!) goals in 2017.
Prediction: This contest will be played before the Buckeyes’ Spring Game, a tough environment for Michigan. Ohio State should win.
Apr. 21, vs. Hopkins, Home, Noon
Hopkins has underwhelmed the last few years and is not the powerhouse it once was. They are still incredibly talented and capable of beating anybody but they have not played well the past few seasons and that has put Coach Dave Pietramala on the hot seat. They snuck into the tournament with only 8 wins last year and proceeded to get stomped by Duke 19-6 in the first round (and their 2016 bid was even more undeserved). But, Hopkins has All-Americans and top recruits at nearly every position so talent isn’t problem. If they get their act together they can be dangerous. They still have Shack Stanwick who can score and Canadian Joel Tinney who is a savvy offensive player. Reminder: Pietramala is buddies with Bellichick, so if you’re looking for another reason to root against Hopkins, that oughta do it.
Prediction: I’ve always had this feeling that Michigan’s first major victory over a blue blood program will come against Hopkins. Conry is a JHU alum and I think he pulls the upset over his alma mater. Maybe Hopkins’ house of cards will finally start to fall apart.
Apr. 28, @ Penn State, State College, PA, 1 PM
Much like the Buckeyes, Penn State finally “arrived” last year and put together a strong season that vaulted the program to elite status. Most fans have been waiting for Penn State to make its presence felt in the lacrosse world for a long time and 2017 was it. Penn State didn’t lose a game until April last year, going 12-2 (they beat Michigan 17-13 in the season finale) but were bounced out of the tournament in a first round upset to Towson. Super Freshman Mac O’Keefe paced the Nittany Lions with an astounding 51 goals last year. He will be one of the best players in the country in 2018. The team’s assist leader Grant Ament will also be back.
Outcome: Penn State lacrosse is fully operational now and they will be tough to beat. Michigan is gonna lose this one.
Michigan will be better than last year, but this won’t be reflected in their record due to their schedule. And it will take time to adjust to a new coach and defensive system. I only see four definite winnable games on the slate this year (Cleve St., Bell, Siena, UMBC) but the opportunity to steal some upsets is certainly there (Penn, AF, Marq, Rutg). And who knows? Maybe the rest of the Big Ten will regress to the mean after an incredible 2017 and it will be Michigan’s turn to take a huge step forward. Go Get ‘Em Conry and GO BLUE!!!