Michigan's defensive focus pays dividends against Penn State

Sunday, October 20, 2019 - 8:50pm

The Michigan field hockey team has eight shutouts in 15 games this season.

The Michigan field hockey team has eight shutouts in 15 games this season. Buy this photo
Allison Engkvist/Daily

Taking as many shots as your opponent’s goals scored is hardly a winning formula. 

Penn State found that out the hard way against the No. 9 Michigan field hockey team on Sunday, a situation representative of the recent efforts from coach Marcia Pankratz and her Wolverines. 

“We’re trying to take each play,” Pankratz said, her voice taking on an unusually emphatic and instructionary tone, “Take each play and win it.”

As she changed her inflection, the new tone signalled that she was slipping into a catchphrase of hers. Junior midfielder Kayla Reed confirmed this to be true.

“It’s about having a defensive killer mindset,” Reed said, “so we’re being really aggressive to those 50-50 balls, winning our 1 v. 1 battles, and stepping in front.”

That mindset has been a big factor in propelling Michigan to a six-game win streak as the Wolverines have only given up two goals over that span. 

Such a stretch of dominance tends to raise questions about the quality of competition, but no such questions rise in relation to Michigan’s streak. Michigan took on three top 25 opponents — No. 2 Maryland, No. 18 Michigan State and No. 24 Ohio State — and shut them all out.

Additionally, the Wolverines faced off against two teams this weekend, Maryland and Penn State, that Pankratz described as perennial powerhouses. They walked out with two wins and only one goal allowed. 

“Our defense has done absolutely outstanding the past couple games,” Reed said.

The standard of play Reed describes was on full display during Michigan’s 3-1 win against Penn State, as the Wolverines only allowed three shots.

Even though the Nittany Lions managed to nab a late consolation goal off a corner kick, Michigan’s defense put on a thoroughly dominant performance throughout the match, shutting down Penn State attacks before they could even start time after time. The Wolverines’ defenders, including junior Halle O’Neill, senior Clare Brush, and sophomore Emma Tamer, glided so swiftly along the backline that the Nittany Lions repeatedly went minutes on end without any sustained attack.

“Well I think it’s just that they’re playing well,” Pankratz said “Hallie is a very smart player — she’s excellent — and she’s our field general. Makes great decisions and she’s an awesome defender. Claire is one of our senior captains and Emma had two goals today. 

“Those three back there, along with (senior defender Guadalupe Fernandez Lacort), they’re a solid unit and they’ve been playing great. They’ve been playing great.”

Simply put, Michigan’s defense is taking each play and winning it.