A quick glance at the stat sheet would suffice to show penalty corners played a big part in the No. 7 Michigan women’s field hockey team’s 3-0 victory Sunday afternoon.
While the Wolverines (1-1) scored two goals off corners against No. 10 Wake Forest (0-2) on Sunday, it was Michigan’s defensive press that sparked offensive production and led to those corners.
When the Wolverines lost possession while attacking, their players charged relentlessly at the Demon Deacons and forced them to make mistakes. From there, Michigan looked to cut off the passing lanes. This was the team’s key strategy going into the contest.
“Well for this game, we knew they were really strong at transferring out of the back,” said sophomore midfielder Kathryn Peterson. “And so what we would try to do was cut them to one side and try to take away those long passing lanes, and pressure as high as possible.”
With the press, Michigan often won back possession quickly. As a result, the Wolverines spent the majority of the game on the attacking side of the field. This yielded the scoring chances, including four corners and five total shots on goal.
“That’s an emphasis,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “That’s kind of our team personality. Our team character is to play great team defense and step up and intercept. And I thought we did it beautifully today, and I was really proud of them.”
It is still early in the season, but the press is already a staple of the team’s practice regimen. Specifically, Michigan focuses on ensuring that the intensity is a team effort.
“We train really hard, someone loses the ball and you’ve gotta fight to get it back,” said senior forward Meg Dowthwaite. “I think we’re practicing at the minute how we train which is really intense and really good, and everyone works together as a team, it’s not individual.
“If your teammate loses the ball, everyone gets behind it. It’s not just that person that lost the ball, which I think is really important.”
In the Wolverines’ first contest of the season, against No. 1 North Carolina, the press wasn’t consistent throughout the game. Michigan brought the intensity early and notched a one-goal lead after the first quarter. The Wolverines couldn’t sustain it, though, and suffered a 4-2 loss.
By Sunday, Michigan made enough adjustments to get back on track.
“We started really strong against UNC, and then we backed off a bit,” Dowthwaite said. “So I think it was important for us to keep that intensity the whole game, even intercepting balls which we were able to do up until the last whistle, so I was really happy with that, and that’s what we really took away.”
Dowthwaite views the press as a central part of the program. As a senior, one of her goals is to teach the younger players the intricacies so that they can get more involved.
Taking Sunday’s success as an example, this tactic could pay dividends down the road.