The No. 3 Michigan field hockey team officially has a shot at an outright conference championship. With a weekend sweep, the Wolverines clinched at least a share of the regular season Big Ten championship, their first title since 2011.
The championship is in its grasp because Michigan has been on fire as of late. Coming into the weekend, it boasted an undefeated Big Ten record and had allowed just two goals in its last eight games combined — all of which were victories.
This weekend, it added even more fuel to the fire.
Friday, the Wolverines (7-0 Big Ten, 13-2 overall) easily dispatched Indiana (0-6, 6-10) in Bloomington, winning 2-0. Michigan continuously swarmed the Hoosiers’ attackers, creating turnovers and suffocating every offensive plan that Indiana tried to execute.
Michigan senior goalkeeper Sam Swenson’s most difficult challenge of the game was likely fighting off boredom, as the Wolverines didn’t surrender a single shot attempt to the Hoosiers.
“We’ve been defending with a whole lot of team speed and doubling down on the ball with our forwards,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “We’ve been really diligent in continuing to play team defense.”
The victory against Indiana was the Wolverines’ eighth shutout in their last nine games — an unprecedented stretch that has led Michigan to within one shutout of its program record of 10.
After the relative ease of their Friday shutout, the Wolverines faced much more formidable opposition on Sunday afternoon, playing at then-No. 22 Iowa (1-5, 5-10).
At the start of the match, both sides struggled to generate any offense — neither team had a single shot for the first 20 minutes of the match.
Then, the floodgates were opened.
Shortly after chalking up their first shot with roughly 10 minutes left in the half, the Wolverines took the lead when fifth-year senior midfielder Esther De Leijer rifled a shot into the right corner of the goal.
Just over a minute later, freshman midfielder Kayla Reed streaked down the right side of the field, dusting her defender and centering the ball to sophomore midfielder Fay Keijer. Keijer then deftly redirected the ball to junior forward Emma Way, who emphatically pounded it in the back of the cage for Michigan’s second goal.
And quickly after, sophomore forward Meg Dowthwaite spun past a defender and crushed the ball into the net — her fifth straight game with a goal.
“(Dowthwaite’s) skills are just outstanding,” Pankratz said. “She’s able to finish and make real polished world-class goals. It’s been fun to watch.”
And just like that, the Wolverines were up 3-0.
But they couldn’t rest easy.
Iowa’s sputtering offense roared to life in the second half, and suddenly, the Hawkeyes had scored two goals. With under four minutes remaining in the game, Iowa aggressively pushed all of its players forward for a penalty corner, desperately trying to knot the game at three.
Iowa forward Maddy Murphy received a pass, wound up her shot, and nailed the ball. She beat Swenson — but not the goalpost. Her shot glanced off the left post, and the Hawkeyes would fail to generate another chance.
Despite Iowa’s second-half goals, Pankratz was still full of praise after her team’s 3-2 victory.
“(The Hawkeyes) were taking a lot of risks, and that just changed the momentum of the game,” Pankratz said. “But I was really proud of our team for really holding on and getting the win.”