Entering the weekend road trip to Ithaca, N.Y. on a three-game shutout streak, including a 12-0 blowout against Ball State in the home opener, the Michigan field hockey team was primed to continue their undefeated start to the season against quality competition.
While the shutout streak ended, the winning streak persisted. Early offensive strikes and a defensive clamp-down on late game shot opportunities led the first-ranked Wolverines (6-0) to a 4-1 victory over Albany and a 3-2 victory over Cornell.
Against the Great Danes, Michigan jumped out to a two goal lead before an answer from Albany wrapped up the first quarter scoring at 2-1. The Wolverines then added two more goals in the second and third quarters, respectively. After a shotless second quarter, Albany looked poised to tighten the game with six second-half shots, but none found the back of the net.
Michigan’s aggressive mindset on offense was emboldened by the team’s anchor, senior goalie Anna Spieker. While she did not repeat the shutout performances of her previous three starts, her teammate, senior forward Katie Anderson, heaped praise on her goalie.
“She’s really good at watching the ball and telling us where to be,” Anderson, who scored twice in the matchup, said. “It helps us put the pressure on our opponents.”
Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz echoed her player’s assessment in her own comments about Spieker.
“The girls play stronger knowing Anna is in the net,” Pankratz said. “There’s a ton of trust that Anna will do her job and do it well.”
In the second matchup against Cornell, Michigan again ran out to an early lead, scoring their first just two minutes into the game. The early goal was the most recent in a trend, as the Wolverines have scored in the first 5 minutes for five of their six games this season; against Albany the previous day, senior midfielder Sofia Southam scored just 28 seconds into the matchup.
“One of the goals for the weekend and the season was to be aggressive in the first five minutes,” sophomore midfielder Lora Clarke said. “We wanted to be guns blazing since we were facing strong competition.”
Cornell, also looking to strike early, did so within the five minute mark, while Michigan answered again at nine minutes. The score remained steady at 2-1 until a goal by Sofia Southam made it 3-1 at the end of the second quarter. At nine goals, Southam ranks second in the country for goals scored.
Cornell made a fourth quarter push, cutting the lead to one after a penalty corner conversion. For the rest of the game, the momentum favored the Big Red, with Michigan facing seven shots and another two penalty corner opportunities. The Wolverines defended well against the push, but were unable to find a put-away goal, despite having four penalty corners of their own to potentially convert on. Corners have been a weak spot for the Wolverines, and this weekend was not an exception.
“We have to convert on corners, plain and simple,” said Pankratz. “We’ll be practicing those a lot this week.”
With the majority of their out-of-conference schedule out of the way, the Wolverines now look toward the Big Ten schedule, starting with a rivalry matchup against No. 25 Michigan State in Ann Arbor this coming Friday.
“It was a great start to the season. We had some adversity but powered through, and we got the younger players plenty of playing time and experience,” Pankratz said. “The season is long, but we’re in a good spot.”
To Lora Clarke, the goal is clear:
“We’re ready to sweep the Big Ten titles again.”
Daily Sports Contributor David Woelkers can be reached on Twitter @dawjr98.