For the No. 1 North Carolina field hockey team, the situation felt familiar.
Not only was the team playing on its home turf — it was also with a lineup consisting of six upperclassmen and two sophomores with NCAA Tournament experience. On the other hand, No. 10 Michigan had a lineup consisting of just three players from the Wolverines’ last tournament appearance.
After a 2-1 upset victory over No. 7 Wake Forest, Michigan (7-1 Big Ten, 18-5 overall) faced the experienced Tar Heels on Sunday, but came up short in a 1-0 loss.
“The fact that we played them in preseason really helped,” said freshman forward Emma Way. “We knew we could’ve beaten them.”
North Carolina (4-2 ACC, 20-2 overall), took control of the game from the start. The Tar Heels outshot the Wolverines, 11-2 in the first half and 4-0 in the second. North Carolina also earned four corners compared to only one for Michigan.
In Saturday’s game, led by redshirt sophomore forward Carly Bennett, the Wolverines outshot the Demon Deacons 8-2 in the first half and netted two goals.
In the second half, Michigan halted Wake Forest’s 11 shots, anchored by first-team All-Big Ten goalie Sam Swenson.
Against the Tar Heels, Swenson again stepped up to the challenge, saving six shots, in the first half, including two in a row in the 25th and 26th minutes.
“She’s one of the best goalies in the nation,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “Our team feels very confident playing in front of her. She helps us become more aggressive in our tactics.”
Though the Wolverines lost in the quarterfinals, Pankratz remained optimistic about the future of Michigan’s young team.
“(The tournament) teaches them to have experience,” Pankratz said of the Wolverines’ younger players. “The seniors brought this program back into elite status in the nation, and the younger players will gain that tradition.”
Michigan made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in three years, though Pankratz believed her squad’s No. 9 ranking last year made it deserving of a spot in the Sweet 16.
The Wolverines’ youth was on display in Sunday’s game, as Pankratz included six sophomores in the starting lineup.
“For a team where 90 percent of the players have never played in the tournament yet in their lives,” Pankratz said, “they played with poise, confidence and maturity. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Though this season ended on a low note, Michigan has much to look forward to in coming years. Next season, Way, Bennett and Swenson will be juniors and with a taste of NCAA Tournament experience behind them, the Wolverines will be the experienced team.