It has been a regular season characterized by near-perfect execution for the No. 4 Michigan field hockey team — a sonorous symphony conducted with perfection by coach Marcia Pankratz and passionately played by a bevy of seniors.
Tuesday night, that symphony concluded with a satisfying crescendo.
The Wolverines easily dispatched Central Michigan, 4-0, in Mount Pleasant.
The victory resulted, in part, from relentless offensive pressure and excellent passing by the Wolverines.
“(The offense) does really well with basic skills – fundamentals,” Pankratz said. “Trapping and passing is the cornerstone of the game. We’ve been able to do it well and that’s allowed us to sustain our success.”
From the outset of the match, the Wolverines (8-0 Big Ten, 16-2 overall) thoroughly dominated the Chippewas (0-5 Mid-American Conference, 0-16 overall). Michigan kept possession and generated several scoring chances early in the first half, but Central Michigan desperately fended off each of these chances.
Then, Michigan junior defender Leah Cardarelli deftly beat goalie Lily Amadio, spinning with Bachian grace and chopping the ball at the seemingly wide-open net. Suddenly, Chippewa defender Ali Huddleson came out of nowhere and stretched her stick out, barely stopping the ball from rolling over the line. Mere inches separated Cardarelli from her second goal of the season.
Yet again, Central Michigan had fended off an excellent Wolverine attack.
But the Chippewas defense would not hold forever.
With about 20 minutes left in the half, sophomore midfielder Meg Dowthwaite received the ball on the right side of the field and fired a cross to the front of the net. Junior forward Emma Way redirected it to junior midfielder Katie Walker, who pounded it into the back of the net to give Michigan a 1-0 lead.
A mere 35 seconds later, Dowthwaite pounced on a ball in the middle of the shooting circle and flung it past several Chippewa defenders and a sprawling Amadio with the sheer force of Mozart’s symphony No. 25.
The Wolverines suddenly had a 2-0 lead — a lead that they would never look back from.
In the second half, senior back Katie Trombetta and graduate forward Carly Bennet each tacked on another goal to Michigan’s lead. Due to suffocating defense, the Wolverines didn’t concede a single shot attempt, let alone a goal, to the Chippewas — the 10th shutout of their 13-game winning streak.
“They just communicate really well and organize the defense,” Pankratz said. “Of course, (senior goalkeeper Sam Swenson) does a great job in goal as well. And we’ve got some speed back there on the side back position. Put that all together and that’s a very solid foundation (for our defense).”
As the final notes of a truly stellar regular season begin to fade into silence, the Wolverines know that they are capable of ending the postseason with a national title — but Pankratz doesn’t want her team to focus on that.
Even-keeled as always, Pankratz said, “the next game is the most important one.”