Team defensive effort spurs Michigan victory
As the No. 9 Michigan women’s field hockey team took the field Friday night, the lyrics of Queen’s We Will Rock You blasted through Ocker Field.
The song proved a fitting backdrop to the type of match that followed: a smashmouth, defensive slugfest. For the Wolverines (11-3 overall, 4-1 Big Ten), it was a team effort on the defensive end that ushered them to a 1-0 victory over No. 2 Maryland (13-2, 5-1).
“We just worked as a team together,” said sophomore goalkeeper Anna Spieker. “Everybody knew exactly where they were supposed to be, in their right pockets and having a good angle with the ball.”
Throughout the game, the Wolverines’ press was relentless and aggressive, often forcing Maryland into sloppy play and rushed passes.
“It all starts with the forwards,” said senior midfielder Guadalupe Fernandez Lacort. “The forwards, they had a great press. You would see their sidebacks fumble the ball or hesitate, not knowing what to do. It really all started from there.”
Limiting Maryland’s corner opportunities also keyed the defense. The Terrapins are known for having a robust corner game, led by two standout drag flickers, forwards Bibi Donraadt and Jen Bleakney. With Michigan’s press helping keep the ball predominantly in the Wolverines’ possession, Maryland only managed to create three corners.
When the Terrapins did slip through the cracks in the Michigan defense, Spieker was there to thwart any notion of a goal. Despite facing ten shots, Spieker, the anchor to the Wolverines’ defense, ensured none reached the back of the net by recording four saves. The shutout helped her improve upon her nation-leading .75 goals against average.
“She made really solid, poised decisions back there,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “Obviously she shut them out, and that’s not an easy team to shut out. So it was a great game from her.”
Michigan was humming defensively from the very start, allowing no shots and no corners in the first quarter. Any doubt that the Wolverines would lose the intensity and physical play for the remaining 45 minutes gradually washed away as the game went on.
Stout defensive performances are nothing new for this Michigan squad — the team now has eight shutouts on the season. Yet doing it against a Maryland team that entered the match eighth in the nation with 3.29 goals per game is an impressive reminder of the team’s defensive capabilities moving forward.
“They played 60 minutes tonight,” Pankratz said. “That’s one of the goals we’ve had all season, to play an entire 60 minutes really strong. We know we had to against Maryland, and they did.”