A late push from the No. 14 Michigan field hockey team allowed it to cut a two-goal deficit in half, but the Wolverines fell in the season opener to North Carolina, 2-1.

The first contest of the year for Michigan (0-1) featured a toe-to-toe matchup with a strong visiting team. Part of the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Wolverines and Tar Heels have faced off to open 12 of their last 13 seasons.

The second-ranked Tar Heels (1-0) delivered on their high expectations, holding on to the lead as the clock winded down.

All three goals came after halftime, and trailing 2-0 late, Michigan earned a penalty corner just four minutes after conceding a second goal. Senior back Lauren Thomas rang a low shot to the far side, where freshman forward Leah Cardarelli slapped the ball past the left post for her first career goal.

“It was a great goal,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “Leah’s a great goal-scorer. We know she has those capabilities and skills, so we were glad to see her put it in when she had the opportunity.”

Cardarelli’s goal narrowed the margin and reenergized the Michigan side. The teams continued to go back and forth for the final segment of the game, but the Wolverines weren’t able to find a final push.

The exciting ending mirrored the first half, when North Carolina’s offense slung the ball around the turf, forcing the Wolverine defense to scramble for stops at many occasions.

Ongoing pressure from the Tar Heels gave an experienced defense a busy job. Led by Thomas, senior back Caroline Chromik and fifth-year senior back Mackenzie Ellis, Michigan’s defensive unit held North Carolina scoreless for nearly 40 minutes, but it wasn’t without a few scary moments.

The Tar Heels outshot and outcornered Michigan in the opening 35 minutes, 7-3 and 3-1, respectively. North Carolina was relentless in its ball movement, swinging it across the field away from Michigan defenders.

Soon after the break, Michigan sophomore goalkeeper Sam Swenson collapsed on a shot from forward Lauren Moyer, but she tripped up the Tar Heel, giving her opponent a penalty corner. North Carolina capitalized as forward Malin Evert tapped midfielder Nina Notman’s powering shot into the back of the goal.

Notman was at the center of the Tar Heel offense throughout the game. Her service and long passes constantly placed the visiting team in dangerous positions as she looked to connect with forwards Moyer and Casey Di Nardo, who eventually scored the second goal for North Carolina.

“Nina (Notman) plays with speed at a high level all the time,” Pankratz said. “She carries the ball at a high level, receives it at a fast pace and makes decisions and executes at a fast pace. She’s tough to defend.”

Losing 2-1 to a powerhouse team in the first game of the season means the Wolverines have plenty of time to fix any mistakes, and also proves they can stay in line with the best. In a stacked conference paired with a tough out-of-conference schedule, the Wolverines expect to meet plenty of worthy opponents.

“It’s mixed feelings,” Ellis said after the loss. “In the end you never want to lose, but it was a great game. … We have phenomenal team chemistry, that part is set. Staying down on our skills and staying focused is what we really need to do.”

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