Editor’s Note: In honor of the 150th year of Michigan athletics, the Daily looks back at what it was like to cover the first women’s team national championship in Michigan history. Bob Hunt, a Daily sports writer from 2001 to 2005, recalls his experience documenting a major milestone in Michigan athletics.
When I was just a freshman living in Alice Lloyd Hall in the fall of 2001, one of the things that amazed me the most about the University of Michigan was the passion for success its people have in literally everything it does. Things that I didn’t know existed before I got there — such as solar car racing or Indian dance festivals — have entire communities of people within the University working to be the best at an incredibly diverse set of pursuits. While it may sound hokey at best or arrogant at worst to outsiders, students and faculty at Michigan really believe they are working to be “Leaders and Best.”
So when Michigan won the 2001 NCAA Field Hockey Championship, giving the University its first national title in a women’s sport, the feeling on campus was more of surprise than anything else. There was surprise that, given all of the University’s athletic success, this was something that had never happened before.
Having written a little in high school and looking for ways to get involved on campus, I went into the Student Publications Building on Maynard Street and joined the Daily’s sports staff during my first week in Ann Arbor. I had written a few cross country articles when the editors said they needed someone to help with field hockey. However, other than seeing the goofy-looking sticks around high school, I knew close to nothing about the sport. Little did I know I would witness history in my first semester on campus.
At the time, a title run would have also been a surprise to anyone outside the program. Despite the fact that the Wolverines had made the national championship game two years prior, they had lost three of their last seven games going into the NCAA Tournament. When Michigan lost 3-0 to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament, things were looking bleak.
However, even from the limited time I had spent with the team, I could tell that the Wolverines still had confidence in themselves and liked playing with each other. Also, due to various NCAA rules, Michigan got to host an NCAA regional despite not being a top seed. The Wolverines began the tournament in Ann Arbor, facing North Carolina, which had made the Final Four in 12 of the previous 15 years. Michigan upset North Carolina and then beat Michigan State in overtime (a game in which the Spartans appeared to take the lead but had a goal overturned). All of a sudden, the team was headed to Kent, Ohio for the NCAA Final Four.
The Wolverines continued that momentum into a championship game against top-ranked Maryland. Despite not having the run of play for most of the game, Michigan stunned the crowd by taking a 2-0 lead early in the second half and never looked back. What seemed unlikely just a couple weeks earlier was now reality.
While everyone around the team and at the Daily at the time knew history had just been made, as much emphasis as possible was put forth by the department on declaring it a great achievement for the University, women or men. Michigan had already seen a great deal of recent success in softball and women’s gymnastics, which is why it was such a surprise around campus that this was the first women’s title. From the team’s perspective, however, they were excited to represent the school, sports or otherwise.
For me, it started a four-year journey working at the Daily, which ended up being one of the best jobs I’ll ever have. I later went on to cover a hockey Frozen Four, a men’s basketball NIT Championship and the Rose Bowl. Even though I left writing after school, I made many friendships I still maintain today. For that, I guess I have to thank, in part, field hockey coach Marcia Pankratz and her team for that sunny Sunday afternoon in Ohio back in 2001. However, I like to look back on it as just another great event to happen to a pretty great University.