Caylie McMahon dives to save a shot on goal from an Iowa player.
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It took nearly 54 minutes for No. 3 Northwestern to muster its only goal in its matchup with the No. 15 Michigan field hockey team, but Wildcats midfielder Lauren Wadas’s goal with just five minutes left was all Northwestern needed to beat the Wolverines. 

In a rematch of last year’s Big Ten championship game on Sunday, Northwestern (11-1 overall, 4-0 Big Ten) avenged Michigan (6-5, 1-3) — the defending conference champions — handing the Wolverines their fifth loss to a ranked opponent this season.

With Michigan struggling to muster any consistent offense, attempting only four shots throughout the game, Northwestern dominated possession and spent most of the game in the Wolverines’ half of the field. Michigan attempted a corner and two shots late in the third period, but plagued by turnovers and poor passing, it was otherwise unable to maintain possession and move the ball into the Wildcats’ half. 

“We’re still working on our basics under pressure,” Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz said. “I think we had trouble stringing passes together because our trapping skills weren’t where they needed to be. We were a little out of sync.”

As the Wolverines’ offense failed to maintain possession and find scoring opportunities, the pressure fell on their defense. Michigan’s defense had success in stopping the Wildcats’ penalty corners, holding Northwestern to only one goal on fourteen penalty corners. Early in the fourth period, the Wolverines’ stopped three consecutive penalty corners behind a block and two saves from sophomore goalie Caylie McMahon.

“We did a great job in our corner defense,” Pankratz said. “(Senior backfield Pilar Oliveros) was awesome flying, and Caylie had an amazing game with great saves. We held a top-four team to one goal. I thought our backline was quite strong.”

Still, Michigan’s strong defense was not enough to carry them to victory. With only 5:29 left, Northwestern attempted its fourteenth and final penalty corner of the game. Wadas recovered possession following a deflection of the initial shot, roping a shot past a leaping McMahon to give Northwestern the 1-0 lead. With the Wolverines’ stagnant offense, that sealed the deal.

Along with Michigan’s defense, McMahon was a bright spot in Sunday’s loss. She finished the game with eight saves – tying a career high – including consecutive saves following a Northwestern corner early in the second period. The Wildcats recorded 25 shots – including 10 on goal – and eight of their 25 came in the game’s final period, indicating their dominance of possession and presence on the Wolverines’ side of the field that eventually led to Michigan’s downfall. 

“(I play) the golden ball, (I play) every ball with 100% effort and just (stay) locked in,” McMahon said. “I try to be as consistent as possible for my teammates, working hard for every single person in the maize and blue. (I’m the) only one who plays all 60 minutes, so I’m (going to) be playing confident.”

Michigan’s defense and McMahon’s stellar goalkeeping kept the game in control, giving its offense immense time to find momentum. But that was not enough to overcome the Wolverines’ dismal offensive performance. The Michigan offense that struggled all game wasn’t able to muster a single shot attempt in the final period. 

Michigan posed a formidable challenge to the third-ranked team in the country. Entering the latter half of Big Ten play, the Wolverines need to find offensive rhythm to complement their stout defense and goalkeeping to find success against competent opponents. And that offensive rhythm was nowhere to be found against Northwestern.