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A buzzerbeater shot at the end of the second quarter dramatically shifted the tide of the Harvard men’s lacrosse team’s (2-2-0) game against the University of Michigan. Harvard took an early lead against the Wolverines, but a post-timeout stretch of six unanswered goals in the second quarter for the Michigan squad marked the end of a nine-game winning streak for the Crimson on Jordan Field.
Michigan drew first blood with a goal by standout junior attacker Michael Boehm. Boehm took advantage of one area Harvard had been working on this week in practice: one-on-one coverage. He bodied his way around the left side of the cage, working in a shifty rocker dodge that got sophomore defenseman Martin Nelson out of position so that he could bury the ball with a lefty sidearm rip. The momentum initially shifted back and forth between the teams, with each offense responding to post two goals on board.
Harvard seemed to run away with the game after this initial bout, scoring six unanswered goals on the Wolverine defense. The attack initially had trouble dissecting the Michigan defensive rotations, with the Wolverines successfully stretching the offense and getting on the hands of the Harvard attackers, eliminating the outside lanes that the attack typically exploits. Harvard’s offense shifted the momentum of the game with about four minutes left to play in the first quarter.
An athletic save from junior goalie Christian Barnard turned into a textbook fast-break play, with first-year defender Charlie Muller scooping up a ground ball that popped loose on the Michigan shot. Muller outletted the ball to senior d-middie Chase Yager, who carried the ball down the field, hitting an open first-year attacker Teddy Malone on the doorstep for an easy finish. The excitement of the goal translated into a second-straight goal on the fast-break, this time by sophomore d-middie Andrew O’Berry. O’Berry has been an integral part of the midfield squad for the Crimson, oftentimes playing both ways. His offensive acumen was obvious as he flew down the field, pushed the ball into the box and took advantage of a miscommunication by the Wolverine defense, which failed to slide for fear of leaving another attacker open down low.
The offensive sets for the Crimson were particularly effective when the Michigan defense marked up man-to-man. Harvard engaged its defenders, dodging hard to approach its matches and draw the slide to try to free up either the adjacent or the skip. Heads-up plays by sophomore midfielders Andrew Perry and Owen Gaffney and sophomore attacker Sam King allowed the offense to rotate the ball quickly, cut decisively into the middle, and free up space for inside looks.
Michigan head coach Kevin Conry took a timeout about five minutes into the second quarter, and this time to reset and refocus his squad ultimately got Michigan back on track. After this break, the Wolverines outscored Harvard 16-4. The biggest change Coach Conry made was shifting his defense out of its man-to-man and into a zone, something the Crimson offense has been having trouble tackling all season.
“After our immediate success in the game, Michigan switched up to a zone, nothing that we weren’t prepared for. We had a lot of good offensive possessions and takes, but, regardless, their goalie made a lot of good saves early on in the zone, giving them some momentum on the offensive side,” Malone noted.
The zone also proved difficult for the offense on its man-up sets. The Crimson had three opportunities on the extra-man, but was unable to convert on any of its attempts. This trouble was not solely getting takes off because of the zone, it also had to do with shot-selection.
Goalie domination, both with athletic plays as well as easy saves from sloppy Crimson shots, was a big contributor in the Wolverines’ success, with their goalie tallying 17 saves on the Crimson’s 30 shots on goal. Part of this total had to do with decision making by the Crimson’s young offense. Harvard is known for its fast pace of play, which at times during caused the offense to rush its sets and take less-than-perfect opportunities.
“We are definitely going to practice playing against that zone, as well as all facets of the game. We’ve got to focus on game situations,” King said. “Knowing when to shoot and when not to shoot.”
Another area that put the Crimson at a disadvantage was at the faceoff. Harvard won less than a third of its takes, only winning possession time on 11 of 35 faceoffs. By not securing the ball in the circle, the team faced unequal possession time on the offensive end. Without the ball, and without the ability to attack, Harvard had trouble shutting down the shifty Michigan attack, clearing the ball, and then putting up goals. By losing the ball early in the play, the Crimson is forced to be cohesive and dominant in all areas of the field. The defense needs to be able to hold off the opposing attack and get the ball across the fifty, which makes scoring much more difficult and reliant on both ends of the field performing.
“I give credit to that unit. They are very experienced and very good. We went up against them last year and they showed up today, and we didn’t show up today, it’s as simple as that,” sophomore FOGO Andrew DeGennaro said.
A loss of possession at the faceoff translated into more time on the defensive end. For the first part of the game, the defense did a better job of holding off the Wolverine offense, forcing it to make mistakes that translated into the team’s thirty turnovers. However, a bit of momentum gave the Michigan offense a fire, and it started to exploit some of the Crimson’s weaknesses. Michigan is a slippery team, and the trio of Boehm, sophomore attacker Ryan Cohen and senior attacker Josh Zawada’s craftiness ultimately tripped up the Crimson defense. The Wolverines also utilized a heavy pick game, which created moments of hesitation and miscommunication for Harvard’s defensive trio.
“The pick game is something that we have to continue to improve on. It is definitely something that showed in this game as something that we didn’t do very well, and so it is something that we are definitely going to work to improve going forward in practice,” commented Nelson.
Going into league play this upcoming weekend, the Crimson squad will look to improve and finetune all facets of its game.
“We’ll get back to the drawing board, we have Brown next Saturday and we’ll watch the film. There’s always learning from a loss like that, and so obviously we’ll watch the film and get ready to get on the road for Saturday,” DeGennaro said. “But, other than that, right now, we’re just going to see what plagued us most during this game and hope to rebound from that.”
A point of praise for the Crimson team was its determination in not giving up until the last whistle. Going into Brown, the team will look to put together an entire 60 minutes of lacrosse without stepping off the gas. With moments of greatness on the field, there were individual efforts that stood out. In order to be successful against Brown and in the tough Ivy League, the young Crimson squad will have to string together four successful quarters.
“I love how our team has no quit, I mean you saw that against UVA in our first game. This was back and forth almost until the end, and I just love how our team, regardless of the score, is just bringing that energy. I think that that just speaks to us, so hopefully we can continue that drive in our lacrosse team this year,” DeGennaro said.
The men’s lacrosse team will travel on the road this weekend to face off against the Brown Bears at 1pm. The Game will be streamed live on ESPN+.
-Staff writer Katharine Forst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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