Last year, the Wolverines nearly reached the summit of collegiate field hockey.
After starting the season 3-2, Michigan reeled off 12 straight wins to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament Championship Game. Matched up with a North Carolina team trying to three-peat, Michigan battled relentlessly to overcome a two-goal deficit and force overtime. But the comeback bid fell just short as the Tar Heels emerged with a 4-3 victory.
Every team wants to win a championship. But when you’re that close, just to be denied, it’s crushing.
Once a team has tasted that level of heartbreak, what makes it willing to regroup and run it back?
“We just have so much frustration and anger from that last game that we didn’t finish,” fifth-year midfielder Emma Tamer said. “This season is all about revenge and you don’t get revenge until you win the last game.”
Fast forward to the 2021 season opener. Who else are the Wolverines pitted against, but last year’s foil: North Carolina.
Michigan came in missing multiple key players to international duty. Rather than bow out against the pre-season No. 1 team in the country, the Wolverines brushed their limitations to the side. This was not just another game.
Michigan never trailed, as it gutted out a gritty 4-3 victory over the Tar Heels.
But just as a championship appearance wasn’t enough to satisfy the Wolverines, they weren’t here to claim moral victories.
“That’s not revenge,” Tamer said. “They still have a national championship ring on their fingers and we have nothing. In terms of satisfying any of that, it hasn’t.”
The Wolverines certainly haven’t shown any complacency, as they followed up that win with three consecutive shutouts en route to a 6-0 start to the season. Michigan is currently the No. 1 team in the nation, ranking first in points per game and scoring margin.
While expectations are high this season, there is no sense of entitlement. A team-first mentality off the field is a driving force to that hot start.
“Every day, we show up to practice and everyone works their butt off,” Tamer said. “We have a great culture … we’re a family. To have both things there where you work hard and you have a great skilled team and the culture and the intangibles are there, that feels good.”
The Wolverines’ freshman class has been integral to their success thus far. Yet, one might fear that the newer players don’t have the same chip on their shoulder from last year’s championship loss, allowing them to get caught up in the early success.
But these freshmen have roots to the team that go beyond the first time they donned a Michigan jersey.
“It was cool because a lot of our freshmen were (at the championship game) and they came to watch,” Tamer said. “So it really is something our entire team has gone through and it’s motivating us.”
On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic gave several of the more senior players an extra year of eligibility — one more chance to finish the job.
“If we hadn’t played in that final game last year, I think we still would’ve been a great team with a lot of potential,” Tamer said. “But that does give us an extra edge. It’s not always the best team that wins the national championship.”
Sometimes it’s the one that wants it the most.