With former players in town for alumni weekend, the current No. 8 Michigan field hockey team faced two strong conference opponents for the first time this weekend. The Wolverines defeated Ohio State (0-2 Big Ten, 3-6 overall) 1-0 on Friday night, but fell to No. 4 Penn State (2-1 Big Ten, 9-1 overall) 3-1 on Sunday afternoon.
Despite its win Friday evening, Michigan had a hard time capitalizing on offensive opportunities throughout both games. The Wolverines had 15 shots on net, but just a few were legitimate goal-scoring opportunities. Still, freshman forward Fay Keijer scored the game-winning goal during the first half of Friday’s game against the Buckeyes, which was a deflection into the upper netting after freshman midfielder Meg Dowthwaite’s initial penalty-corner shot.
“We did it as a team,” Keijer said. “We worked so hard and fought until the end because this was a very close game. I don’t really think it was just my goal.”
Sophomore forward Emma Way finished a chance off a corner, but Ohio State challenged the call and it was disallowed by the referees for being too high.
After halftime, the game turned into a defensive battle, culminating in a high shot from the Buckeyes that junior goaltender Sam Swenson batted away with three minutes remaining. That attempt was Ohio State’s only on-net shot of the game.
Though the Buckeyes did not generate many traceable offensive opportunities, they kept the ball in Michigan’s defensive zone for much of the second half. The Wolverines were forced to defend five penalty corners, but they held strong and sealed the 1-0 victory.
“We were having trouble breaking the ball out of the defense today,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz on Friday. “We were a little unsteady there.”
The Wolverines made adjustments in practice Saturday to correct that, but their miscues came back to bite them, as they were caught sleeping at the start of Sunday’s game. The Nittany Lions burst past Michigan and tipped in their first goal just 38 seconds into the game. Six minutes later they racked up another goal during the second effort on a penalty corner.
“We tried to get back to the game plan” Pankratz said. “We just unfortunately didn’t play the whole 70 minutes. We were 10 minutes late.
“By then we were really scrambling to come back and it’s tough to do that against a great team like Penn State. But I was proud of how we turned it around … and I thought it was an even game the second half.”
Despite the tough first half, Michigan seemed encouraged by the alumni who were honored on the field at halftime and began leading the fans in chants during the second half.
But that wasn’t enough to help the Wolverines, as the scoreboard reflected the even-matched play the rest of the game. Way finally earned a spot for Michigan on the board with less than 10 minutes left in the game, with an assist from junior midfielder Katie Trombetta. Once again, the goal came from a penalty corner. The Nittany Lions tallied one more late goal with just 3:42 left in the game to solidify their win.
“We just need to finish more on our corners,” Way said. “We had a lot of opportunities and they’re the number one scoring part of the game.”
Added Trombetta: “I think each game we’re getting better, we’re building more, getting more confident. I think today we kind of let the hectic-ness get to us. We started to dribble a lot more, so we have to go to our basic of passing.”
Michigan is entering a crucial point of its season — gearing up to face conference opponents for the next three weekends in a row. Unlike its 10-0 cakewalk against Central Michigan University last week, the stakes are higher as conference play begins. The Wolverines will have to tweak their offense — or at least their penalty corners — in order to be successful.