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With season underway, field hockey eyes another Big Ten Championship

By Steven Braid, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 25, 2011

Every year, the Michigan field hockey program enters its season with plenty of goals and expectations. And every year, there’s always one goal that never needs reminding:

Win the Big Ten title.

“It’s always unspoken, but we’re here to win championships,” Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz said. “These players chose Michigan for a great education and for a great experience on the field hockey field and they know coming here that there is a rich tradition of excellence and of bringing home championships.

“That’s really always the unspoken goal — to at least win the Big Ten Championship and put ourselves in a position to reach the national championships.”

The Wolverines have won the Big Ten regular-season championship outright twice in the last 10 years, while earning a share of the title four times during that span, most recently sharing the crown with Ohio State last year.

But for No. 9 Michigan, adding another championship this year will not be easy. One of four Big Ten teams ranked inside the top-20, the Wolverines will also need to find players to replace the production lost by last year’s phenomenal senior class.

But even with the loss of key contributors, such as Meredith Way and Alicia Mayer, Pankratz expects nothing less than a repeat performance in the Big Ten for her team. She is confident in her returning players’ improvement and leadership and believes that the Wolverines will be able to fill the holes left by last year’s senior class.

“When you have a strong program with great tradition, its just how it works every year,” Pankratz said. “When the older seniors leave, the junior class then steps up and matures and they become great, outstanding seniors that carry the team. It’s just the way the progression goes and we’re hoping to carry on the same success.”

The Wolverines will certainly be experienced on defense, one that returns its cornerstones from a squad that shut out six opponents and allowed less than two goals per game. Anchored by redshirt senior goalkeeper Christi Barwick, the defense also returns two other starters, redshirt senior Eileen Brandes and senior Hannah Dawson.

On the other side of the ball, senior Bryn Bain will be expected to help carry the offensive load after a fantastic junior year.

Along with an experienced and skilled senior class, the reigning Big Ten regular season and Big Ten Tournament champions have plenty of other impact players returning.

The Wolverines have a wealth of talented and improved underclassmen who figure to see significant minutes, and senior captain Brandes is excited by the prospect of the younger girls stepping up.

“We did lose a core class, but we have people who are just ready to step right in,” Brandes said. “We have a big sophomore class and they really took time this summer to get better and be ready to those positions.

Michigan’s top goal scorer, sophomore Rachael Mack, will be back as well. Although opponents are likely to double or even triple team her, Mack doesn’t expect her production to drop off.

Freshman back Aline Fobe has shown flashes of brilliance throughout preseason and is expected to contribute right away. Freshman forwards Emy Guttman and Lauren Annable are also believed to be able to contribute on the offensive end.

While echoing her coach's sentiments about another Big Ten Championship, Brandes added that the Wolverines shouldn't just stop there.

“It always goes unsaid that it’s to win the Big Ten Championship,” Brandes said. “Last year we won them both and this year we want to do it again and that’s what we want to do every year. And then we want to make it to the NCAA Championships and go on a run.”