Junior forward Emma Way possessed the ball on the right side of the field near the 25-yard line and threaded a pass that narrowly avoided the sticks of the Northwestern defenders and goalkeeper. Sophomore midfielder Guadalupe Fernandez Lacort finished the job in front of the net to put her team up 1-0, 37 seconds into the game.
The No. 3 Michigan field hockey team (8-0 Big Ten, 18-2 overall) took the field in East Lansing putting its 14-game winning streak on the line against No. 9 Northwestern. After 70 minutes of play, the Wolverines retained that streak, shutting out the Wildcats, 2-0.
The Wolverines flashed their dominance on both ends of the field, recording their 12th shutout in 15 games. After taking a 1-0 lead in the first minute of the match off Lacort's goal, the team continued to dominate offensively by controlling possession and passing with precision.
“It sets the tone but also settles our team down with their nerves and brings their confidence into play,” said Michigan and Big Ten Coach of the Year Marcia Pankratz. “I thought we played the first half with a lot of confidence.”
As it has done so frequently this season, Michigan kept play on its opponent’s end of the field, creating many scoring opportunities. It was able to capitalize again with four minutes remaining in the first half when sophomore midfielder Kate Walker sent in a waist-high cross from the right side of the net, which sophomore forward Meg Dowthwaite swatted into the goal.
The Wolverines went into halftime up 2-0 after playing a dominant first half in which Michigan had seven shots and one corner, compared to one shot and zero corners for the Wildcats.
However, as expected, Northwestern came out in the second half with a renewed sense of urgency. Though the Wildcats fell to the Wolverines 1-0 earlier in the season, they rank near the top of every offensive category in the Big Ten. Continuing their trend, Northwestern controlled possession for the majority of the second half, generating many scoring opportunities.
“We knew coming in that Northwestern would give us everything they had and more,” said junior defender Maggie Bettez. "So we just thought it was really important to stay organized and have a lot of talk from (Swenson) all the way through the center of the field and just listen to the people behind us and in front of us.”
Michigan was up for the challenge and responded with stellar defensive performances, led by the play of senior goalkeeper Sam Swenson who recorded five saves.
“Everyone knows their role and takes full advantage of it no matter what it is,” Bettez said. “The bench is super loud the whole time and people put in goals when we need them and (Swenson) stops it when we need her to.”
And frankly, Bettez isn't wrong. The Wolverines showed that they are a complete team by playing a dominant offensive first half and shutting out the Northwestern offense which was firing on all cylinders in the second half. It's that type of play that got them to the Big Ten championship, and it's the same type that Michigan will need to win it.