For the first time since 2011, the Michigan field hockey team is the outright regular season Big Ten champion.

Friday afternoon, the fourth-ranked Wolverines (8-0 Big Ten, 14-2 overall) took on No. 8 Northwestern (5-2, 12-5) and earned a hard-fought 1-0 victory.

In the first half, Michigan outshot the Wildcats 8-3 and notched three penalty corners to Northwestern’s one. The Wolverines, however, were unable to convert their chances, and the two teams entered halftime in a scoreless tie.

The second frame, though, told a different story, with the Wildcats determined to increase their offensive aggressiveness.

Northwestern’s pressure resulted in two green cards for Michigan just two minutes into the second half. The Wolverines struggled to maintain possession, only worsening the situation.

But senior goalkeeper Sam Swenson came up big — as she has throughout her career — and saved the Wildcats’ three shot attempts. And as the half continued, the Wolverines began to find their footing. Around 20 minutes in, Michigan flipped the script and put Northwestern on the defensive.

The Wolverines earned six penalty corners in the second half. They converted those into only one shot on goal. But that one shot proved to be the difference.

Just 10 minutes remained in regulation when junior defender Maggie Bettez pushed the ball out to sophomore midfielder Guadalupe Fernandez Lacort, who laid the ball off to senior midfielder Katie Trombetta. Trombetta’s shot was low and powerful, but a deflection sent it over the sprawling Northwestern goalkeeper to give the Wolverines the lead.

“Northwestern’s a great team and has a great defense,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “We had a couple of opportunities, and we were just trying to stay patient and execute under pressure the best we can and it worked out.”

It was a dream finish to her regular season career for Trombetta, as her goal proved to be the decisive blow that pushed Michigan to the conference title.

“I mean, there are really no words to describe it,” Trombetta said. “We were just giving everything we got and to finish it off was just truly an incredible feeling. It just really amped us to finish those last nine minutes and not give them anything.”

The Wolverines controlled possession after they took the lead, but as time expired, Northwestern had one last chance off a penalty corner. Still, Michigan’s players held off their celebration and stayed composed in order to prevent a game-tying goal.  

“Don’t let them score, don’t let them get anything,” Trombetta said, describing her team’s mentality. “Just get it out and just give it all you goalkeeper your head down and keep your feet out the way.”

The Wolverines had clinched a share of the title last weekend with wins over Iowa and Indiana, but they maintained their focus on Friday and were able to win the conference outright.

“It’s a lot of pressure and they just stayed poised and tried to execute the gameplan,” Pankratz said. “They played as hard as they could, and I was just really proud of them.”

The Wolverines celebrated their championship at Ocker Field on Friday evening, but the team knows its season is far from over with the Big Ten Tournament coming up next weekend, and the NCAA Tournament soon thereafter.

“We want to work harder, and we want to win another championship,” Trombetta said. “It’s just going to keep pushing us to work as hard as we can.”

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