It was just a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity.
Sophomore forward Meg Dowthwaite took her shot and watched it roll past two Syracuse defenders, begging it to go in.
The No. 3 Michigan field hockey team came into the NCAA Tournament round of 16 with a tough matchup in No. 13 Syracuse. It was a true battle of strengths between the second- and third-best defenses in the country, respectively.
“It was a tricky one,” Dowthwaite said. “We hadn’t seen them play before, but I think we just came out with the same game plan we always do, which was just … play the hockey that we know.”
The game was a battle of attrition from the beginning. Most passes that weren’t blocked went out of bounds, and turnovers kept the Wolverines from capitalizing on their opportunities.
As time expired in the first half, the Orange took a penalty corner that gave them their fourth shot of the game. At that point, Michigan had just two. At first, the second half seemed like more of the same, but sometimes the biggest moments happen when no one expects them.
Following a deflected pass, Syracuse forward Elaine Carey hit Michigan junior back Maggie Bettez with her stick after the referee blew the whistle. She was issued a red card.
Dowthwaite didn’t see the play, but she did see an opportunity for the Wolverines.
“We decided to put a lot of pressure on because we were one (player) up,” she said. “We just decided to go all out.”
The Orange’s offense – already a weakness – suffered even more without their forward. Michigan’s defense held them shotless for the rest of the game.
Still, their defense kept the Wolverines from taking advantage for the rest of the second half.
Just when it seemed Michigan was gaining momentum, a breakaway chance was spoiled by a pass that went out of bounds. When senior back Katie Trombetta missed a shot, sophomore midfielder Guadalupe Fernandez Lacort was in good position for a rebound, but the ball went high.
But the Wolverines knew the importance of keeping their composure as the stakes got higher, even when the shots weren’t going their way.
“We just kept going,” Dowthwaite said. “I think we just knew that (more opportunities) were gonna come.”
With less than a minute to go, Michigan drew a corner, but fifth-year senior Esther de Leijer’s shot was blocked. The clock ran out. Locked in a scoreless draw, the Wolverines were going to overtime.
“You never know when (overtime is) gonna come up,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “I feel our team’s done a really good job preparing for all those situations.”
During the break, the Wolverines drew up a game plan. Their focus remained on one thing: advancing to the next round.
“(They faced) a lot of adversity today, a lot of distractions,” Pankratz said, “so I think to be able to stay focused and execute under pressure was awesome.”
One minute into overtime, Dowthwaite’s opportunity came. She received de Leijer’s shot from outside the circle and made a tip. Time stood still as the ball rolled toward the net.
“Come on,” Dowthwaite said to herself.
It felt like forever before the ball finally found the back of the cage. Then came bedlam. The Wolverines rushed the field and the crowd erupted into a roar.
Two years after they last made the NCAA quarterfinals, the Wolverines are back. On Sunday, Northwestern awaits.