The No. 10 Michigan field hockey team only has one focus: the Iowa Hawkeyes.
No matter that the NCAA Tournament looms ahead next week. No matter that should the Wolverines win the Big Ten Tournament, they will claim an automatic bid and a high seed in the 16-team NCAA bracket. No matter that Michigan will host the Final Four in two weeks.
“We haven’t gotten to the NCAA tournament in (three) years,” said senior forward Shannon Scavelli. “So we’ve got to take it one game at a time.”
The Wolverines (7-1 Big Ten, 15-3 overall) arrive in Bloomington with a nine-game winning streak.
In the beginning of that streak, the team played the 20th-ranked Hawkeyes and defeated them, 4-0. Yet the game proved closer than the score suggests, according to Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz.
“In that game, although we finished our chances, they had more corners than we did,” Pankratz said. “Iowa is a much different team (now).”
Iowa (2-6, 9-9) has lost its last three games, including a 2-1 loss against No. 7 and Big Ten top seed Maryland. The Wolverines’ only conference loss came in College Park earlier this year.
Scavelli and senior back Lauren Thomas anchor Michigan’s offense with nine goals apiece. Fifth-year senior back Mackenzie Ellis serves as the playmaker for the attack, garnering a team-leading 12 assists.
As usual, Michigan will look to sophomore goalkeeper Sam Swenson and her Big Ten-leading 0.80 goals-against-average and 0.827 save percentage.
Pankratz, in her 16th year as the coach for the Wolverines, hopes to take her team back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. Pankratz also coached Michigan’s championship team in 2001, but as Scavelli mentioned, the coach remains primarily concerned with the team’s matchup against Iowa.
“We’re taking each game as it comes,” Pankratz said. “We’re looking solely at Iowa. We’re going to polish our corners, scout their attack corners and make sure that we have the proper defense for that.”
Statistically, the Wolverines and Hawkeyes match up evenly in about every category, ranking third and fourth in the Big Ten in goals per game with 2.78 and 2.72, respectively. Iowa ranks third in assists per game with 2.72, and Michigan trails closely behind in fourth with 2.56. The Wolverines rank third in corners in the Big Ten with 62, a testament that proves Pankratz’s efforts have paid off. The Hawkeyes, however, rank a distant seventh with 47.
Though Thursday begins the postseason, Pankratz downplays its significance.
“I don’t think anyone needs motivation for the Big Ten Tournament,” Pankratz said. “I think it’s more trying to manage anxiety, keep the team focused and keep distractions out.”
The Wolverines approach the postseason with three consecutive shutouts. Yet Michigan arrives in Bloomington with only one goal.
“The nine games mean nothing,” Pankratz said. “The only thing that matters is the Iowa game.”