Over the course of two games against ranked opponents this weekend, the Michigan field hockey team’s defense recorded two shutouts on its way to securing two important wins.
The defense — comprised of senior Lauren Thomas, fifth-year senior Mackenzie Ellis, redshirt junior Caroline Chromik and sophomore Kate Trombetta — recorded shutouts against No. 20 Iowa and No. 9 Stanford. Against the Hawkeyes, Michigan held possession for much of the game, and Iowa never seriously threatened until the game was already in hand thanks to the stringent defense. Against the Cardinal, the Wolverines netted an early goal and then held off advances by Stanford’s offense.
“(The defenders) are senior leaders, and they played well,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “Stepping up and intercepting the ball, reading and anticipating the play, and really winning the 50-50 balls. Kenzie in particular and Lauren’s 1-on-1 defense was really solid in the defensive circle.”
This has been the case all year. The Wolverine defense has allowed just 12 goals all season — best in the Big Ten. The two shutouts over the weekend were its fourth and fifth of the season. Michigan has played just three games in which it has allowed more than one goal, its average for the season.
In addition to the play by the defenders, the performance of sophomore goalkeeper Sam Swenson has contributed to the tough defense. Swenson, who was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week days earlier, helped record her fifth shutout of the season. She also has a Big Ten-leading 0.94 goals-against average and a .796 save percentage through 12 games.
“(In) every game, Sam has made critical saves for us in big moments, and has kept us in the game, and kept the confidence of the team in the positive space,” Pankratz said. “She is solid back there, and everyone is confident when she is in there.”
In addition to holding firm on the defensive side, the defense played a large effort in creating attacking opportunities and even scoring goals. Thomas usually controls the ball before distributing it wide to one of her other backs or aggressively driving the ball up the field to one of the forwards.
Along with the setup and distribution of the plays, the defenders play critical roles on penalty corners. Out of the four goals against the Hawkeyes, three came from corner kicks, with Thomas scoring two of them and Trombetta netting one. Additionally, Trombetta recorded one assist and Ellis had two of her own.
“We work on corners every day,” Pankratz said. “You have to work on it for repetition to get the fine-tuning, and as the season goes on you get more and more detailed and concise.”
Added Thomas: “It’s such a big thing for us to execute on corners because they win or lose games for us. So to be able to say we got three goals from corners is a really good thing.”
The Michigan defense will need to continue to execute on these corners, while continuing its lockdown defense, if it hopes to extend its five-game winning streak as it enters the last part of the season.