Despite a strong performance to start the Big Ten Tournament, the No. 2 Michigan field hockey team (15-4 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) returned home from Piscataway without a championship after the Wolverines were upended 1-0 by No. 3 Rutgers (17-3, 6-2) in Sunday’s final.
“It was a disappointing end to the weekend to say the least,” Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz said. “We came to win a title, and we didn’t achieve that goal.”
After a bitterly fought shootout against Northwestern, the Wolverines entered the conference semifinals looking to avenge their regular season loss to No. 1 Iowa (16-2, 7-1).
While Michigan entered the game fatigued from the previous day’s efforts, the Hawkeyes, by virtue of their No. 1 seed, were fully rested.
Despite being on heavy legs, however, the Wolverines ran out early in the first quarter. In the sixth minute, senior midfielder Sofia Southam rifled a shot that — after being blocked — was poked in by sophomore midfielder Lora Clarke.
Iowa was quick to respond, scoring an equalizer just 30 seconds later. Ultimately, the first quarter’s scoring ended in the 12th minute off a true corner shot by Southam inserted by Nina Apoola, bringing the score to 2-1 Michigan.
After a third quarter goal by the Hawkeyes tied the game once again, Southam added Michigan’s final goal of the game in the fourth quarter. She totaled five points in the performance, her highest single-game total since September in the 12-0 rout of Ball State.
“We knew we had to play well against Iowa, and we largely did,” Southam said. “We got a little too caught up in that win though I think.”
As the ball dropped to start the Big Ten Tournament final on Sunday, the Wolverines were looking to repeat their regular-season performance against the Scarlet Knights. Whether by a designed mismatch by Pankratz or simple physicality, Michigan dominated possession for much of the first and second quarters, just as they had done in October’s 3-0 shutout.
What eluded the Wolverines, though, was converting possession into goals. And as Rutgers finally broke through Michigan’s defensive front, the Scarlet Knights managed to find one of their own, scoring during a scrum at the cage that saw their only three shots of the game.
“It was a bad break for us, and we didn’t hustle enough to clear the ball,” Pankratz said.
The rest of the game looked frustratingly similar to the first two quarters; the Wolverines threatened the Scarlet Knights but didn’t capitalize on opportunities. While part of the issue can be chalked up to the stalwart goalkeeping of Rutgers’ Big Ten co-Player of the Year Gianna Glatz, it was clear Michigan seemed unable to make efficient shots.
While the Wolverines had 12 shots on goal out of 14 total in October, on Sunday they were only able to get four on goal out of 12 total.
“We didn’t make good shots, and it hurt us.” Pankratz said. “That’s something we’re gonna have to iron out in practice this week.”
Despite the Michigan defense preventing the Scarlets Knights from attempting a single shot in the second half, the offense was unable to find an equalizer. As the Rutgers bench flooded the field in elation, the Wolverines exited with a bitter taste in their mouth.
While Michigan returns to Ann Arbor without a title, it doesn’t return home completely empty-handed. The Wolverines were awarded a home bid for the NCAA campus regionals late Sunday night.
To the team, however, the home bid is a rather disappointing consolation prize after starting the season with the expectation of repeating their sweep of the Big Ten titles in the spring.
“It’s really disappointing to have gotten this far and end up short,” Southam, who was voted to the All-Tournament Team, said. “We have a lot of work to do this week.”
Daily sports writer David Woelkers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @dawjr98