Junior fullback Katie Anderson awaited her second shootout attempt, with the Michigan field hockey team’s postseason bid on her stick. From avenging their 2017 Final Four exit (and a 2019 season-ending defeat via the team across from them, for good measure), to the program’s 20-year absence from the national championship game — this moment was the pinnacle of several journeys.
The game itself, however, was a journey of its own.
The No. 2-seeded Wolverines (14-7, 7-1 Big Ten) defeated the No. 3-seeded Louisville Cardinals (14-6, 3-3 ACC) in a national semifinal that posed many tests, with Michigan cracking the code at every turn.
While the matchup provided its most thrilling moments down the stretch, the opening half could not have been more stagnant: both teams headed to the locker room combining for a grand total of one shot and a penalty corner attempt each.
With playmaking opportunities hard to come by, execution would define the scoreboard in the second half, and for Michigan, simplicity was its recipe.
“It just starts with the simple — listening to your teammates from behind you, playing simple ball,” Anderson said. “I think our team is really good at adapting to anything that comes our way. Composure is really a team effort.”
Even when killing off cards for the majority of the third quarter, the Wolverines rarely turned their heads. Freshman midfielder Anouk Veen broke onto the scoreboard with a corner shot and Michigan threatened on many more occasions, all while shorthanded.
Of course, the penalties themselves are still something for the Wolverines to improve on.
“Some of the younger players can get rattled — things aren’t going our way, and then they get lost in their thoughts instead of just executing and playing hockey, so you try to keep them in the moment,” Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz said. “We weren’t at our best at that today. We’ve been better. So hopefully we can get over that hump of being a little bit rattled and realize that you can still have good outcomes. It’s always a process and they’re always growing and learning every day.”
It didn’t take long for the Wolverines to face more adversity. For the rest of the game, Louisville relentlessly threatened the net. Even through a string of five corner opportunities in the fourth quarter, the Michigan defense stonewalled the Cardinals.
But an eventual Louisville goal seemed inevitable. The timing made it sting just a bit more, as midfielder Emilia Kaczmarczyk tied the game with only a minute remaining off of a sixth corner chance.
Led by game-saving goaltending from junior Anna Spieker, the Wolverines were done with being rattled to any degree — staying alive through two overtime periods and even tying the opening frames of the game-deciding shootout.
“I was really proud of our team for bending without breaking,” Pankratz said. “It’s not an easy thing to get scored on in the last minute and then to be able to stay composed and go into overtime keeping after it not getting deflated.”
And as the sudden death rounds began, the Wolverines gave the ball to Anderson to bring it home. In the wake of all pressures, she lived up to the standard of composure necessary, keeping it simple and staying in the moment.
When her team sprinted over in celebration, however, it’s safe to say she let the gravity hit — a euphoric release of a year-long goal achieved and near-lifelong drought ended.
“There’s no better feeling,” Anderson said. “We’ve worked since August to come and play in this game, so I couldn’t be any more excited, and neither can the team.”