(Photo Courtesy of Michigan Athletics)
The Maryland Terrapins came within one win of completing a perfect season, falling in the national title game against Virginia, and will almost certainly be the favorite to win the Big Ten and a Final Four pick for most people heading into next season. But that’s just business as usual in College Park under.
However, Maryland might not be the Big Ten team that everyone should have their eyes on heading into the 2022 season. That team should be the Michigan Wolverines, but not because they are a national title contender. Because they aren’t. Everyone should have their eyes on fixated on Michigan because they are a program coming of age right in front of our eyes.
Since Michigan’s move from club to DI in 2012, there has been a lot of hope that this program would one day become uber-successful. For those who want to see a big-time FBS power having success year in and year out in lacrosse, Michigan is their program. However, things haven’t been as successful as some had hoped through their first nine seasons. The Wolverines have only had two winning seasons in program history, and coming into last season had just three conference wins to their name.
The hiring of Kevin Conry, who had previously served as the defensive coordinator for Maryland, and the building of the Wolverines’ multi-million dollar lacrosse-only stadium meant a new era for Michigan lacrosse. And too many, that meant the start of an era where Michigan will be building towards competing at the highest level on the national stage.
And while the first four seasons of the Conry era haven’t seen Michigan lacrosse take over the college lacrosse landscape, there has been growth nonetheless and signs can be seen all around that this program is ready to take that next step. Some would say that despite a 3-9 record, what the Wolverines did during a 2021 campaign that pitted them up against a conference-only schedule proves they have jumped to the next rung on their journey up the ladder of the Big Ten and college lacrosse’s national landscape.
The Wolverines’ three wins this past season came against a No. 17 Penn State squad in late March, Johns Hopkins in early April, and their arch-rival Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament – which Michigan made for the first time with everyone making it this past spring. While those were their only three victories, Michigan could just as easily had ended the year with a 6-6 record, as they fell to Ohio State, 13-10, in an early-season contest that saw things tied up with less than a minute left, and ended the regular season with two one-goal losses, falling to Penn State, 14-13, in overtime and Rutgers, 13-12, in a game that saw things tied at 12 with 9:10 left in the game.
Michigan may not be at the top of the mountain that is Big Ten lacrosse, or even college lacrosse in general, yet, but there is no doubt that the success Conry and his staff are seeing on the recruiting trail are starting to pay off on the field. The Wolverines are indeed climbing, and just as we saw them do last season, Michigan might reach new heights again in 2022.
This Wolverines’ offense will, again, be headlined by attackman Josh Zawada. A Raleigh, N.C. native, Zawada has lived up to the hype that surrounded him upon his arrival in Ann Arbor as a freshman, leading the team in points as both a freshman in 2020 and this past season as a sophomore. Zawada accounted for 39 points off 24 goals and 15 assists this past season, leading Michigan in points, goals, and assists.
Playing alongside Zawada, Michael Boehm had a fantastic freshman season in which he put up 36 points off 21 goals and 15 assists. Bryce Clay was the Wolverines’ third-leading scorer with 23 goals and four assists for 27 points. Additionally, junior midfielders Jake Bonomi (13G/1A) and Jacob Jackson (12G/1A). Kyle Stephenson (4G/3A) saw seven starts as a freshman and should see even more time next season as the Wolverines’ sixth-best scorer returning in 2022.
In addition to the impact players returning this spring, Michigan brings in a stellar freshman class that features multiple guys who could make an impact on day one. Attackman Aidan Mulholland is the most notable name in the class. The Manhasset (N.Y.) product was rated as a five-star by Inside Lacrosse and an Under Armour All-American.
Wolverines’ offensive coordinator Justin Turri saw his offense end the season ranked 33rd nationally in scoring offense, averaging 10.92 goals per game. Add in the experience factor of the key returnees, as well young players that could potentially step up, and the fact that Michigan won’t be playing a Big Ten-only schedule in 2022, and it’s hard to argue that this Michigan offense should be expected to do anything bu progress forward this spring.
Another reason to have faith in this offense progressing in 2022 is the fact that they should have the possession advantage with Nick Rowlett back for his senior season. The All-Big Ten selection put together a strong junior campaign last season, going 172-for-220 (.538%) at the dot. He ranked fourth in the Big Ten and 30th in DI in faceoff percentage. Rowlett went at least 50% at the dot in all but three contests and set a new program record for faceoff wins in a game, going 25-for-38 against Rutgers in early March. He also had 100 ground balls (first in Big Ten) and thrice found the back of the net.
Following his breakout season, Rowlett is one of the top returners at the position and should continue the impressive play we saw from him last season. Just replicating what he did last season should be good enough to help give his team a possession advantage, and be that X-factor he often was a season ago.
Defensively, Michigan was amongst the bottom half of DI, allowing 14.75 goals per game. However, it should be noted that the Wolverines were facing a Big Ten-only schedule where they had to face two of the nation’s best offenses (Maryland, Rutgers)
Despite how poor the final numbers look on the back end following the 2021 season, Michigan did see improvement. The Wolverines allowed 15.8 goals per game through the six games of the season and 13.6 during the final six.
Additionally, this unit was fairly youthful last season with now-Senior Andrew Darby (24GB/2CT) as the Wolverines’ only real experienced full-time starter. Jack Whitney (15GB/5CT) also started in all 12 games as a freshman while his fellow classmate, Brendan McCabe (5GB/2CT), saw seven starts in 11 games. Now-junior Ryan Schrieber (12GB/6CT) saw action in all 12 games with five starts.
That core looks like it will be pretty similar in 2022, and with a full season under their belt together, perhaps we can see some improvement on the back end for this Wolverines squad. LSM Gavin Legg, who led the team with 21 ground balls while also causing seven turnovers last season, returns for his senior season along with goalie John Kiracofe. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound netminder put together a solid season, making 123 saves with a .432% save percentage. That includes a career-high 17-save performance against Penn State and a 16-save game against Johns Hopkins.