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Northwestern rides second-half rally to hand Michigan its first home loss

BY MIRA DALAL
For the Daily
Published October 5, 2012

Coming off a strong performance against Pacific, the No. 16 Michigan field hockey team suffered a 4-1 loss to a strong, aggressive Northwestern squad under gray skies and steady, cold rain in Ann Arbor on Friday.

The defeat also marked the team’s first loss at home this season.

The Wolverines (0-2 Big Ten, 7-5 overall) came out strong, constantly pressuring Wildcat goaltender Maddy Carpenter. Just over 5 minutes into the first half, junior forward Rachael Mack beat Carpenter to notch her 45th career goal and extent her scoring streak to eight games.

The Wildcats (2-1, 11-2) didn’t post a shot for 18 minutes. But the momentum quickly shifted when Northwestern tied the game at the 25-minute mark. The visitors scored three unanswered goals in the second half and had many more offensive chances.

“We definitely started the game well — probably one of our best starts throughout the season,” Mack said. “Then they picked it up and it became a lot more even. That’s just the way it goes.”

Physicality and conditioning played large roles on both sides in the Big Ten matchup. Freshman defender Lauren Thomas saved a goal in the first half, and credited her reaction time and speed to practice.

“I just threw myself at the line for the team and it was a buzz, but everything’s for the team,” she said. “I think anyone else would have done it if they were in my position. I’ve had the ball machine being thrown at me in preparation for things like that and it’s paid off.”

Mack and Thomas reiterated that competitive, close games like Friday’s matchup are good learning experiences, especially for a team that will only graduate one senior this year.

“Starting with the harder games is really good for us, it shows us what we need to be like,” Thomas said. “I don’t think we’re actually that far off from these teams, and playing these teams is pushing us in practice and showing us what we have to do to get better.”

Because of the poor weather conditions and the physical play, Mack said the team tried to avoid sloppy play by focusing on the basics.

“It’s a really hard thing to do because that’s one of the biggest parts of the sport, but when I’m down, I just try to think back to the basic skills and just try to do every little detail perfectly, and go out there and try to have fun,” she said.

Northwestern was coming off a big overtime win at Penn State. Senior forward Chelsea Armstrong, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, was a strong presence in the Michigan backfield but failed to score. Her speed and stick skills, though, posed a challenge to the Wolverine defense.

“I think they were a lot stronger than us in their tackles, and at the end of the day, they wanted it a little more than us,” Thomas said. “But that’s something we’ve got to learn from and take into the next game. It’s all a good learning curve for us.”

This afternoon’s elevated level of play is a preview of contests to come. Michigan takes on Michigan State next Friday, and Ohio State on Oct. 14.