The Michigan field hockey team entered Sunday hungry for its first win against a top-10 team, No. 5 Iowa. The Wolverines had dominated their past four games, including a commanding victory over Indiana.
However, heading into this match, Michigan remained winless against top-10 opponents, including a close 1-0 defeat against No. 2 Maryland in overtime. Yet on Sunday the Wolverines’ defense helped flip the script.
The first quarter saw an offensive standstill from both teams. The game was scoreless, and only three total shots were taken in the first quarter, two by the Wolverines and one by the Hawkeyes.
Offensively, the first quarter was a far cry from the offensive juggernaut the Wolverines were in their past four games. While struggling offensively, Michigan’s play on the defensive end told a different story. The Wolverine defense hounded Iowa throughout the quarter. The Hawkeyes couldn’t get past midfield, and Michigan controlled possession and the pace of the game. A great defensive effort by the Wolverines blocked passing lanes and denied Iowa from starting any semblance of its offense.
“I think it all starts from the communication from the back to the front.” junior midfielder Lora Clarke said. “That’s how we were able to successfully press them for the whole game. They have great defenders and a great midfield. So we knew if we could get their heads down and kind of pressure them very hard, then like, we’ll hopefully fall in our favor.
Due to its defensive success, Michigan was finally able to jumpstart its offense in the second quarter. It turned down field possessions and corners into shot attempts. It took eight shots in the quarter, including four penalty corners, the most in any period for the entire match.
The Hawkeyes had a chance to tie the game with their first penalty corner of the match with 27 seconds left in the half. A strong shot by Iowa was denied with a diving save from fifth-year goal keeper Anna Spieker. Spieker was a key piece of the Wolverines’ defense, denying shots all game long.
“Anna played great today, she had a remarkable save,” Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz said. “It’s a different game if that one goes in, so she really kept us in it. And I think our defense has been great. They stepped up.”
The Wolverines entered the second half with their continued defensive aggression from the second quarter.
“We wanted to play to win, and not play to not lose.” Pankratz said. “We wanted to stay aggressive because it was working really well.”
However, two minutes into the third quarter junior fullback Rosie Hope received a green card, and for two minutes the Wolverines played nine against ten. Iowa received a penalty corner, and another save by Spieker denied Iowa a chance to tie the game.
Spurred on by Spieker’s saves, the Wolverines attempted another five shots in the third quarter, but once again were unable to convert any shots into goals. By the time the third quarter ended, Michigan was one-for-fifteen on shot attempts.
The eighth penalty corner for Michigan occurred in the fourth quarter and it was its first conversion of the match. Clarke passed the ball to sophomore midfielder Abby Tamer, who quickly attempted a shot at the goal. A save by Iowa’s goalkeeper saw the ball rebound right to Clarke, who squeezed another shot in off the rebound for her ninth goal of the season.
While the Wolverines’ defense has locked down opponents all season, they were unable to succeed on the offensive end. Michigan only successfully converted one penalty corner the entire match, which was off a missed shot.
“It’s honestly just repetition at this point.” Clarke said, “I’ve definitely been trying to work on the repetition to get it in the precise spot. But now I have to work on kind of like upping the speed and amping it up a little bit. So that’s kind of my goal for the rest of the season.”
Despite their floundering offense, the Wolverines clinched their first top-10 win of the season — and will look to carry their defensive momentum into their match-up with No. 3 Northwestern.