As Harvard’s third consecutive shootout attempt hit the back of the net, the writing was on the wall for Michigan. After a shootout loss in the NCAA final last spring, the Wolverines once again saw their national championship hopes come to a crashing halt.
The third-seeded Michigan field hockey team (16-5 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) finished its season in a 1-0 tight shootout loss against Ivy League champions Harvard (17-1, 7-0 Ivy League) in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Field Hockey Championships. After a last-gasp first-round win and a three-hour weather delay, the Wolverines came up against a gritty Crimson team and difficult weather conditions, falling just short of a win.
Michigan struggled throughout the difficult matchup to create chances and was unable to find its normal penalty-corner success. The Wolverines’ offense was blunted by a strong five-save performance from Harvard goalkeeper Ellie Shahbo. Michigan’s struggles were best typified by a slow first half, in which the fatigued Wolverines had just one shot, which came late in the second quarter.
After an uneventful first quarter in which Michigan controlled possession but was unable to create chances, the Wolverines allowed the Crimson to grow into the game. Though Michigan denied Harvard any shots or penalty corners early on, the Crimson created the most dangerous chance of the first half. Michigan senior goalkeeper Anna Spieker was forced to rush out of her goal to deflect a Harvard chance as the second quarter neared its end.
As the second half started and snow began to fall once again, both teams created a more end-to-end contest. The Crimson began the second half looking for a go-ahead goal, finally creating chances during the third quarter. Harvard once again forced a rushing Spieker save, ending the third quarter with more shots than the Wolverines.
“Anna, she’s phenomenal. The team plays with a lot of confidence in front of her,” Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz said. “She’s one of the major reasons why we’ve had such a successful run here.”
Although Spieker prevented the Wolverines from conceding, they continued to struggle to create as the fourth quarter wore on. Michigan turned up its energy and gained several penalty corner opportunities, but the typically strong penalty corner team was unable to break down a resilient Crimson defense as it forced the Wolverines into overtime.
Michigan flew out of the gates at the beginning of overtime, creating a number of chances. The Wolverines thought they had won the game after scoring a goal off of a penalty corner in the first overtime period, but it was then ruled out by the referees as an illegal shot. Within one minute, Michigan found itself down two players. Senior forward Katie Anderson and freshman midfielder Alana Richardson received five-minute yellow cards.
Michigan, forced to weather a six-on-four situation, was on the back foot for much of the second overtime period. The Wolverines sought to survive during these five minutes, keeping the ball as far away from their net as possible. Anderson’s yellow card ended just in time for the forward to make a big defensive play on a Harvard counterattack.
“It’s almost impossible to play and stave off a six on four,” Pankratz said, “I was really proud of our team for doing that. It was just really really unfair and difficult on our team and I think we weathered that beautifully.”
The Wolverines struggled for the remainder of the overtime to regain their offensive momentum, failing to convert on two late penalty corners. Michigan was unable to capitalize in the shootout, as it didn’t score on its first three attempts. The Crimson, showing their grit, scored all of their three attempts to seal a stunning win over last season’s NCAA finalists.
After a strong season capped off by a quarter-final in the snow, Michigan was unable to live up to expectations and seal a second consecutive final four berth. The Wolverines are returning all but two players and will continue to have high expectations for next season:
“I hope that everyone remembers how it feels,” fifth-year midfielder and graduating captain Halle O’Neill said. “And goes next year with some vengeance, leaves it all out there again and hopefully brings home a national championship.”