Sam Swenson didn’t take much time to earn the starting goalkeeper position for the Michigan field hockey team.
As a freshman, Swenson appeared in all 20 games for the Wolverines, starting 18 and posting a 1.34 goals-against average.
The native of Harrogate, England, has continued her good form into her sophomore season. Through 12 games Swenson has improved her goals against average to .94 and carries a .796 save percentage into this Friday’s game against No. 20 Iowa.
“I think my decision making has improved the most,” Swenson said. “I’m getting a lot better at knowing where I should be on the field, and the decisions I need to make as a play is progressing. I also feel more confident in my skills. I feel like that’s an aspect that has improved, that my actual skills have gotten better and I can execute once I’ve made the decisions out there.”
Her coach, Marcia Pankratz, has counted on her from day one.
“I think coming into the University of Michigan as a freshman, not only for the American kids but certainly someone who’s coming all the way across the ocean to a new culture, it’s a big adjustment,” Pankratz said. “I think coming into her sophomore year, she knows what it’s all about. She’s got her feet on the ground.”
Though she is just a sophomore, Swenson brings plenty of experience, having captained her prep team in England for five seasons. Swenson’s play has been strong enough this year to earn two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors. She has also been a part of four shutout performances by the Michigan defense while allowing just 11 goals all season.
“It’s really nice to be recognized,” Swenson said. “As a defensive player it is something really special. Sometimes goalkeeper is not as rewarding as other positions on the field, so it is really nice to be recognized, but I couldn’t do it without the rest of my team. They really do push me in the right way every day in practice and in every game, so it’s really all down to them for making me who I am today.”
Swenson has been able to learn on the job while benefitting from the support of an experienced Wolverine back line, but when the time comes, she has been in position to defend her net. The team, in turn, has taken advantage of having a goalie as good as Swenson, taking risks further up the field that it wouldn’t normally. They trust her to come up with the saves.
Early in the season, Swenson and the defense struggled defending penalty corners but Swenson has stepped up into a leadership role in penalty situations. Part of the leadership process for Swenson has been studying plenty of film prior to games.
“She’s making the big-time saves,” Pankratz said. “She did last year as well, but even more this year. When the game has been tight and close, she’s been coming up with a couple of really big saves that have kept us in the game and have allowed our attack to then score in the second half to win it.”
Swenson continues to grow and develop as a leader on the defense, just as the competition will toughen on the way to the Big Ten Tournament. But in her second year at Michigan, it's safe to say she's right at home.