With the ball on her stick at the 25-yard line, senior midfielder Sofia Southam charged deep toward the shooting circle. Accelerating with every step, she left Ball State’s defender in a spray of sand kicked up from the field. The ball followed her — as if she tied it to her stick — with a series of effortless taps in an arc toward the goal.
Southam reached the edge of the field and crashed to her right toward the goal. The Cardinals’ goalkeeper Ally Butler swept toward her to rob a premier chance — but this effort came too late. The ball hopped over Butler’s outstretched pads and freshman midfielder Abby Tamer knocked it back toward Southam as she lunged around the keeper.
Before anyone else could move, Southam whacked the ball into the back of the net as if she stopped time.
The scorekeeper inked her name into the box score for the first of a program-record five goals before the half.
“(Southam) is a clever, gifted, skilled player,” Pankratz said. “It’s not a surprise that she can score five goals in a game.”
Southam’s big game led an offensive explosion from the No. 1 Michigan field hockey team, leading to a 12-0 rout of overmatched Ball State. The offensive performance was so strong, the Cardinals couldn’t get a shot off all game.
Overwhelming pressure from the Wolverines’ attackers kept the Cardinals on their heels all game, content to just clear the ball out of their shooting circle. They struggled to get that far, however, hesitating as they scanned for Michigan attackers.
The defenders’ hesitation gave Southam chances to fire the ball in the back of the net all game, and she took advantage of them all.
Tiny adjustments in positioning helped create Southam’s electric offensive effort. Instead of sitting near the goal waiting for a rebound, she actively cut off outlets for Ball State’s defenders, adding to the tidal wave of Wolverines crashing toward the ball. The Cardinals could only hope to tread water.
“Our great team dynamic and passing and making good decisions and looking for those open lines, open passes, not really going toward chaos, going toward where they have more players,” Southam said. “So we kept the ball as far away from them as possible.”
Penalty corners came often as Ball State tried to weather the attack, and Southam took advantage of these, not relying solely on corners to create her space. She also positioned herself in quiet areas of the field, acting as a safety valve if Michigan’s sweltering pressure left them stretched thin.
When Ball State countered the Wolverines’ upfield charges, Southam found enough space near the shooting circle for her teammates to give her the ball, moving it deep to the net and creating dangerous opportunities.
When Southam rushed into the attack, she made her presence matter. On seven shot attempts, she put six on goal. Five of those zipped past Ball State goalkeeper Ally Butler as Southam scored more goals than she had points last season.
“(Southam’s) an incredibly skilled player,” Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz said. “She was on fire today because she came out defensively really hard, played at a high level in terms of intensity and work ethic and that translates.”
Five goals from a player usually means they found the ball on their stick for ample amounts of time, but not Southam. Often, she only kept the ball for a few touches before passing it to a teammate. Ball State keyed on her after the first goal and she had to adapt.
That’s where her cleverness came in.
On multiple occasions toward the end of the half, she chipped the ball up toward the net looking for a teammate to knock home the rebound, and she looked for passes instead of trying to maneuver around multiple defenders. Instincts would tell a player to get a clean shot off to make the keeper flinch, but Southam used crisp passing to stretch the defense and set up her teammates.
“We have great connections,” Southam said, gesturing at the lopsided scoreboard. “You can see it in the score.”
A dominant win over Ball State seemed destined heading into Friday’s game, but Southam’s game-breaking performance stood out. Michigan showed what its offense can do, highlighted by Southam’s role within it.
Daily Sports Writer Connor Earegood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @ConnorEaregood