The public address announcer at Homewood Field during the Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse team’s game against Rutgers last Saturday afternoon added a probably unnecessary dramatic twist to the out-of-town scoreboard announcement. “Maryland, 11,” he said, then paused a beat before announcing the winner second, for dramatic effect: “and Michigan, 16.”
The result was stunning enough on its own. “What! Michigan beat Maryland?” said one Rutgers supporter, standing just left of the press box. “See, it’s anyone’s game!” a woman wearing a black hat with a red-block “R” on the front yelled toward the turf, intending for the ninth-ranked Scarlet Knights to hear the encouragement as they gathered during a first-quarter timeout against the No. 7 Blue Jays.
The moment served as a brief break from a frantic on-field pace. The two teams combined to score five goals in the first seven minutes, with Johns Hopkins showing previously unseen desire and ability to push transition via long pole midfielders like Patrick Deans, creating at least half a dozen fastbreak scoring chances.
Coming out of the timeout, as if inspired by the result they just heard reported from College Park, not much changed. The barrage of goals continued from two teams looking to gain a slight edge in the second of only five conference games they’ll play.
Hopkins led 7-5, and only Blue Jays goalie Tim Marcille had made any saves (four) by the end of the first quarter, a pause that offered time to look around. A few thousand fans were in the crowd, including a sizable visiting contingent from New Jersey and Hopkins students. It was warm and sunny, albeit briefly. This was a good game, so far, from Johns Hopkins and Rutgers, two top-10 teams.
And unranked Michigan, a program that many casual observers might not even know exists, just beat traditional power, defending national champion and No. 2-ranked Maryland, 16-11. The scoreboard in Baltimore was almost halfway to that final with three quarters of a game still to play. The next day, Penn State and Ohio State, the two other of the six Big Ten men’s teams would play. Either could win.
This was kind of fun to think about.
The Big Ten, long associated with three yards and a cloud of dust in football, is competitive and fast-paced from top and bottom in lacrosse. It’s a league rivaled in talent and strength-of-schedule points only by the ACC, where Maryland used to face Duke, Virginia, and North Carolina in league play every year.
What we saw happen Saturday also suggests that college lacrosse’s reach continues to expand beyond the conventional hotbeds of Baltimore, Long Island, upstate New York, and a few others. Every one of the six Big Ten men’s lacrosse teams is ranked in the nation’s top 20 this week.
The sport – and particularly the conference – isn’t quite what it used to be.
What! Michigan beat Maryland?
“First top-five win. First win against Maryland. It doesn’t get any better than that,” Michigan’s starting goalie Shane Carr, a junior originally from Severna Park, said by phone Wednesday after practice from Ann Arbor.
He was talking about the firsts that the program, in its 12th season of NCAA Division I existence, ticked off by beating the Terps. Additionally, the win finally gave Michigan at least one victory against every Big Ten foe for the first since its club team was elevated to the varsity level more than a decade ago.
Carr’s path to Michigan is emblematic of one of the traits of a lacrosse program that can create an upset story like this. It is located outside lacrosse’s traditional geographical footprint but has a roster full of contributors who grew up in it and an increasing number of talented players from places where the game is growing.
Carr was lightly recruited even while putting together a two-time all-Anne Arundel County career at Severna Park. The team went 47-0 and won four Maryland public school championships when he was there. Yet his primary offers to play at the next level were from middle-of-the-pack Division I programs Drexel and Lafayette, neither of which felt like the right fit for him.
Then Michigan coach Kevin Conry, the former Maryland defensive coordinator, came calling ahead of Carr’s senior year. He offered an opportunity Carr found zero reason to pass up, even though Michigan had typically looked up from the bottom of the Big Ten standings and won only four of 32 conference games in history at that point.
“Once I got on campus here, you see they pretty much have everything you want as a student athlete — the weight room, locker room, all the facilities,” Carr said. “And on top of that, the entire culture here and academics is kind of unbeatable when it comes to like a lacrosse school. Once I got an offer, it was an easy choice.”
He was second-team All-Big Ten a year ago, behind only an All-American from Maryland. The Wolverines have a few players like Carr, who may have been overlooked, or lower-ranked recruits at one point or another from places like Maryland, Long Island, and Connecticut. And, like a lot of other programs these days, Michigan also has other major contributors from more far-flung lacrosse locales, which keep growing.
Take a look at the Wolverines’ entire starting attack and leading scorers: Michael Boehm (Ohio), Josh Zawada (North Carolina) and Ryan Cohen (Florida); and two of its three first-line midfielders, Jacob Jackson (Texas) and Peter Thompson (Michigan). We imagine they were attracted to the Ann Arbor campus for much the same reasons as Carr. Thompson is actually from Ann Arbor.
Then there’s how you play the game, of course. “We have a saying, ‘do your job,’ whether you’re the fourth-string faceoff guy on the bench, a starting attackman, or a goalie in my case,” said Carr, who split halves Saturday with freshman Hunter Taylor (Landon), each making five saves. “For the offense, it’s hit singles, not home runs. You’re not going to score a five-point goal. Do the little things. Against Maryland, we had a 100% clearing rate, our defensive middies d’ed up, our defense was sliding. We were doing the detailed things that most teams can overlook, but we’ve put a lot of emphasis on them.”
If you look at the statistics beyond the final score, Maryland and Michigan played a largely evenly matched game, except for one big area: Shooting. The Terps put roughly half of their shots on goal (21 of 41). Then, on the other end, they were too often disorganized on defense, creating opportunities for an experienced Michigan offense that pulled away with five fourth-quarter goals. Boehm, a junior, and seniors Zawada and Jackson combined for 10 of Michigan’s 16 goals.
“We have to go back to work,” Maryland coach John Tillman said Thursday from the airport, heading to Columbus, Ohio, for another conference game Friday night against Ohio State, “and make sure guys have a sense of urgency. We lacked some focus at times, and I don’t think Michigan lacked it. They were ready to roll, excited to play the defending national champions and ready to play hard and fast. At times, I felt we were just stuck in mud.”
What! Michigan beat Maryland? Yep.
Johns Hopkins went on to beat Rutgers, 16-12, on Saturday, and Penn State beat Ohio State on Sunday, creating a logjam of teams at .500 in the league standings, and placing the now No. 6 Blue Jays (9-3, 2-0) atop the group with a month left in the regular season. Now fifth-ranked Maryland (6-3, 1-1) holds a head-to-head tiebreaker over eighth-ranked Penn State (6-3, 1-1) for second place. No. 12 Rutgers (7-3, 0-2) is in last. Michigan is 5-4 and entered the top-20 in the coaches’ poll at No. 18 this week. And Ohio State is 5-5 and ranked 19th.
With the conference’s postseason tournament and the NCAA tournament fast approaching, the Blue Jays have their best record after 12 games since 2018 and are on a five-game win streak. By a comfortable margin, this is already the best campaign the storied program has had under third-year head coach Peter Milliman since he replaced Johns Hopkins legend Dave Pietramala after the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
What might separate this Blue Jays team from ones of the past is its depth, particularly in the midfield. Eleven different players scored against Rutgers, including seven midfielders like Brendan Grimes and Ryan Evans, both from Boys’ Latin.
In Johns Hopkins’ wins lately, they’ve closed out several different opponents in the fourth quarter and look like the fresher team. On Saturday, a takeaway by attackman Garrett Degnon (DeMatha) late, and a 50-yard empty-net goal by short-stick midfielder Brett Martin put an exclamation point on the type win that’s become the Blue Jays’ trademark this season.
With Maryland having dropped a game and Hopkins in the driver’s seat of the Big Ten for the moment, it’s very possible that when the heated rivals play on the night of April 22 in College Park for, depending on which side you ask, the 138th or 131st time in the programs’ history, the outcome will decide the conference champion and top seed for the six-team conference tournament. This was always the expected outcome when Big Ten lacrosse started.
But it might not happen. Ohio State and Penn State have both reached the final four in recent years. There’s no easy out.
“A number of teams can really compete with anybody, and there’s starting to be some balance. More teams are competing for the top of the Big Ten as well,” Milliman said. “It’s going to be a battle. There’s no doubt. We knew that going in last week, we knew that going in this week, and we know that going in next week, that every one of these games is going to be tough, and anybody can beat anybody in our conference.
What! Michigan beat Maryland?
We’ll be careful of making too much of one result, though. It’s just one game.
But I picked up dinner at a pizza place where framed jerseys from nearby Boys’ Latin hang above the booths. A father ate at a table with his middle school son, wearing lacrosse shorts, when a woman approached.
“Michigan beat Maryland today,” she said as the conversation turned to the college games of the day.
“I saw that,” the man said. “Isn’t it amazing how the sport has grown? Did you ever think those words would come out of your mouth?”
I didn’t, at least on this particular lacrosse Saturday, but here they are as the next one approaches.
Maryland women edge Blue Jays
The Big Ten women’s conference is increasingly competitive, too.
On Wednesday night, the No. 10 Maryland women (11-3, 3-0 Big Ten) held off visiting Johns Hopkins, 13-12. The Blue Jays women are 5-7 overall and 2-2 in the conference but challenged the Terps.
Maryland got late goals from seniors Libby May (Hereford) and Shaylan Ahern (Glenelg Country) and freshman Kori Edmondson (McDonogh).
“That was a win we really gutted out,” Maryland coach Cathy Reese said. “Proud of how we finished strong. They had all the momentum for a while and we found some answers. This is a real game of growth for our team.”
Games to Watch
As mentioned, the No. 5 Maryland men are at No. 19 Ohio State on Friday night. No. 13 Loyola (6-3, 3-1 Patriot League) hosts Navy (5-6, 2-2) in a league game on Friday too. No. 6 Johns Hopkins faces No. 8 Penn State on Saturday night.
The No. 11 Loyola women (9-2, 4-0 Patriot) and No. 20 Navy (10-2, 4-0), who appear on course to decide the Patriot League championship in a few weeks, are on the road at Colgate and Boston University, respectively.
One more time: Michigan beat Maryland?
During halftime of the Ohio State-Penn State game on Sunday, former two-time All-American Rutgers attackman Jules Heningburg, working as an analyst for ESPNU, broke down the game — and the Big Ten in general. “It’s looking a lot more like the ACC,” Heningburg said. “You don’t know who’s going to win on any given day.”
Corey McLaughlin is a veteran writer and editor who has covered sports in Baltimore for a decade, including for Baltimore magazine, USA Lacrosse Magazine and several other publications.