The No. 2 Michigan field hockey team (12-0 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) hosted two top-ten opponents — No. 6 Northwestern (10-4, 1-3 Big Ten) and No. 3 Louisville (11-3, 3-0 ACC) — in a challenging weekend. Following a double-overtime win over the Wildcats on Friday and a 48-hour turnaround, the Wolverines matched up against a rested Cardinals team.
Against Louisville, Michigan staved off fatigue and rose to the occasion, finding a late winner in regulation to secure a statement 2-1 victory.
The Wolverines used their depth throughout the game to ensure their control of possession. Michigan made 21 substitutions throughout the game, relying on its bench to deliver against challenging opponents.
“Our 22 players … could play any Division I team.” Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz said. “That helps us not only in practice but when we get in games like this having versatility and depth.”
But the Wolverines struggled to create goal-scoring opportunities for much of the defensive showdown. Michigan found success from their four penalty corner opportunities, creating 10 shots to the Cardinals’ seven.
Michigan opened the game testing out their opponents, controlling the ball through the opening exchanges. The early tense moments gave way to an end-to-end first quarter. After Louisville’s opening penalty corner went nowhere, a rapid counter-attack created a first penalty corner opportunity for the Wolverines. The corner, taken by senior midfielder Kathryn Peterson, was converted by senior midfielder Sofia Southam after a deflection.
Southam’s opening goal, the leading scorer’s fifteenth of the season, was the highlight of an otherwise quiet opening half which ended at 1-0. The early quarters featured a defensive battle between two of the nation’s best teams with Michigan controlling possession throughout.
The Cardinals came bursting out of the gates in the second half, though, creating a slew of chances. Louisville had an opportunity to level the game following Southam’s green card ejection for two minutes of the third quarter. The Cardinals seized the advantage, equalizing through forward Katie Schneider after a penalty corner to tie the score at one.
“Sometimes you have to weather those momentum swings,” Pankratz said. “I’m proud of our team for doing that.”
But, the Wolverines reasserted their control following Louisville’s goal. Despite a slew of potential chances, Michigan was unable to find a go-ahead goal. The match remained level as the end of regular time drew near. The key moment finally came for the Wolverines from a late penalty corner. A lengthy video review of the penalty kept Michigan waiting as it plotted its big chance.
During the review, the Wolverines found a looseness that has been key for them throughout the season. The players huddled on the sidelines with senior goalkeeper Anna Spieker dancing near her goal to energize the team.
This mentality proved key for Michigan. Following the video review, Southam delivered the corner to redshirt senior defender and captain Halle O’Neill, who scored the go-ahead goal with just three minutes remaining in the game. The Wolverines were able to hold out to secure a massive win.
Michigan relied heavily on its set plays throughout the game. This game marked a second consecutive game-winner following a penalty corner. These opportunities have been key for Michigan as it manages a challenging schedule.
“I think we really trust what we call,” O’Neill said. “Everyone executes on their part, and then thankfully we’ve been able to execute.”
The Wolverines’ win over the Cardinals was their fifth consecutive win over a ranked opponent. Despite its challenging schedule, Michigan — along with No. 1 Iowa — remains one of only two unbeaten teams in the nation.
“Anytime you can play a great team like Northwestern and then Louisville a great team it’s amazing to come out and win both of those,” Pankratz said. “The Big Ten is great top to bottom and so every single day is new preparation and getting ready. We’re just taking it as it comes and hopefully, we can keep it going.”