The Michigan field hockey team made history in Columbus on Sunday, winning its eighth Big Ten title in program history, the most of any team in the conference.
The fourth-ranked Wolverines (5-3 Big Ten, 13-4 overall) defeated the defending title holder, No. 3 Northwestern (5-3, 17-3), in a gritty 2-1 game. The win secures them a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
In the span of four days, Michigan faced three top-10 teams and it defeated each of them. The Wolverines like to take things one game at a time, approaching the tournament as an exciting opportunity rather than focusing on the strenuous nature of it.
“I feel like the energy is a lot higher because we know we’re going into a tournament,” fifth-year midfielder Katherine Peterson said. “We have that in the back of our minds while just focusing on the next team to play.”
This game-to-game mentality was buoyed by strong defense across the field on Sunday, which allowed Michigan to dominate even when the score was close. The defensive pressure was an asset for the Wolverines against Northwestern, giving them the upper hand in possession time and controlling the pace of the game.
The two teams faced off in late October, in a defense-oriented match that went into double overtime, after a scoreless regulation. The final score was 1-0, with the Wildcats on top.
“Northwestern is a great team,” senior midfielder Nina Apoola said. “We’ve played them many times before and we know how they play. We knew that it was gonna be a battle going in, so we just really wanted to embrace it, thrive off it and just really have fun with it.”
With this in the back of its mind, Michigan didn’t allow another slow start. Late in the first quarter, junior forward Kate McLaughlin tipped in a hard shot from the top of the circle and put her team on the board. With an early lead already built, the Wolverines played with more confidence and control.
“Once we were winning we were able to play our game as a team and just continue to take those risks,” Mclaughlin said.
This energy carried into the second quarter. Less than five minutes into the period, the Wolverines doubled their lead. Converting corners into goals has been a focus for the Wolverines since August, and they finally were able to do so in one of the most pivotal moments of their season.
After being awarded a penalty corner on offense, fifth-year midfielder Brynn Zorilla got a rebound off of the goalie’s pads and redirected it into the cage. The goal was Zorilla’s first of the season, and it eventually sealed Michigan’s victory.
“We need to find a way to capitalize on our corners,” Peterson said Friday, looking toward Sunday’s match. “I feel like we’re gonna be practicing that a lot tomorrow. And I mean, who knows, we might even just scrap everything and come up with something new.”
With a successful corner conversion, Michigan went into the second half feeling confident in its 2-0 lead. It found success in its strong defense, holding control for the majority of the second half. It wasn’t until the last five minutes of the game that the team’s control was challenged.
With just four minutes left in the game, the Wildcats found an offensive breakaway and scored. Afterward, they were given a chance to tie things up when a defensive penalty put Michigan down one player. Northwestern pulled its goalie for a two-person advantage, a last ditch effort to tie the title contest.
Despite the additional pressure, Michigan stayed disciplined as the clock ran down. When the buzzer sounded, the Wolverines won their historic eighth Big Ten title.
“We’ve been working so hard and winning Sunday was great,” McLaughlin said. “But we want to get to the top and we want to be at the top.”
The rest of the team all echoed McLaughlin’s words: they aren’t satisfied. Michigan wants to win it all.