Maybe it was time for Michigan to save Sam Swenson for once, instead of the other way around.
As the active NCAA leader in career save percentage — both this year and for her career— the senior goalkeeper has bailed out the Wolverines time and time again. Swenson stands on top of one mountain of success. But she’s looking at a higher one: an NCAA Championship.
Before Saturday’s 1-0 overtime win against Syracuse and Sunday’s 3-0 win over Northwestern, Michigan only had one NCAA Tournament win during Swenson’s tenure— a 2-1 win over Wake Forest in 2015. Even that year, Michigan lost its next game, 1-0 to No. 2 North Carolina.
“It means everything,” Swenson said Saturday. “I mean we had a close chance a couple years ago, so to finally do that, it feels really great. We have a really special team, so it’s really extra nice to do it with them this year.”
With time expiring in the first half Saturday, Syracuse was in prime position to score the first goal of a gritty, defensive game off a penalty corner. As the Orange lobbed a 45-degree shot toward the right side of the goal, Swenson stretched out her leg and deflected the shot outside the right post with her shin pad.
Eight minutes later, the goalkeeper stopped a Syracuse shot cold in its tracks, mere inches away from the goal. Regardless, Swenson deferred praise of the Wolverines’ defensive prowess Saturday afternoon to Michigan’s back line and the rest of her teammates.
“Our back line is incredible,” Swenson said. “But really, the back line starts with the forwards and the forwards did a great job of keeping the ball pressed up high. Especially when there were corner balls, we almost always turned them over.
We put a lot of pressure on them if they messed it up because they put that pressure on our backfield. And we were there to pick it up. (Senior) Katie (Trombetta) did a great job today, and (junior) Maggie (Bettez) and (freshman) Halle (O’Neill) also did.”
Swenson didn’t have to shoulder the load after that. Syracuse didn’t even take another shot on goal after the 45-minute mark, as the back line of the junior and freshman duo of Bettez and O’Neill walled off the Orange’s attackers.
This time, the senior goalkeeper got to do something that she hadn’t been able to do before against Syracuse: watch her offense work. Swenson noted after the game how happy she was to see the offense close out the game after 77 minutes of strong defense.
Swenson was dominant once again a day later— shutting out Northwestern as well in the quarterfinals. While junior forward Emma Way took the spotlight with a hat trick, Swenson hunkered down and recorded five saves, helping Michigan decode an aggressive Northwestern offense that outshot the Wolverines 9-6 and earned five corners.
“It’s kind of a blur, but I guess I just go through it play by play,” Swenson said Sunday. “I don’t really know how to describe it.”
Even in situations like the Syracuse game, where Swenson played as well as possible but the game was still in doubt, she remained confident in her teammates to push Michigan over the top.
“I felt like it was gonna come,” Swenson said, of Michigan’s game-winner against Syracuse. “I think we were really patient, we worked it around the back, and then Meg (Dowthwaite) obviously tipped it in. It was a great goal and I felt like we deserved it, and obviously, I was really excited, I don’t think I’ve ever run so fast down the field. So, yeah, really excited and proud of them to finish. They deserved it.”
And Swenson, for her defensive prowess throughout her Wolverine tenure, deserved it too.