There was a celebration Sunday at Ocker Field.
It just wasn’t of the variety that the No. 8 Michigan women’s field hockey team had in mind.
Following the Wolverines’ (13-5 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) 1-0 loss to No. 9 Iowa (13-4, 7-1), the Hawkeyes stormed the field, embracing to celebrate their share of the Big Ten regular season title. The Michigan players, meanwhile, walked off the field solemnly, heads down and missed opportunities lamented.
An inability to convert on the attack served as the Wolverines’ undoing. Michigan outshot Iowa 9-3, yet none found the back of the ever-elusive net.
“Field hockey is a game with finishing in the circle,” said senior midfielder Clare Brush. “And today we didn’t finish in our penalty attack and corners.”
The game’s lone goal occurred three minutes into the second quarter off a left side corner from Iowa forward Maddy Murphy. Midfielder Ellie Holley settled the ball for forward Lokke Stribos, who unleashed a powerful shot that deflected off a Michigan defender and into the goal. With the Wolverines unable to muster anything in their attack, the goal proved to be all Iowa needed.
One area in which Michigan thrived offensively was its ability to control possession. In particular, coming out of halftime, the Wolverines played with a noticeable uptick in intensity and aggression, which paid dividends in winning battles in the midfield.
“We talk about playing with urgency and I think in the second half, we really turned on that urgency,” Brush said. “That allowed us to totally dominate with possession, but again, it’s just about finishing in the circle.”
No sequence was more symbolic of Michigan’s scoring struggles than the one that transpired early in the third quarter. An Iowa green card gifted the Wolverines their most formidable scoring chance. Junior back Halle O’Neill played the ball in to senior midfielder Meg Dowthwrite, who fired a strong shot to the right side of the net, only for it to be absorbed by Iowa goalkeeper Leslie Speight. The ball trickled back in front of the goal, where, amidst the clutter of players, it was again attained by Dowthwaite, whose second shot was once again saved by Speight. In one last-ditch effort for Michigan, junior midfielder Kayla Reed fired her shot wide right.
Three consecutive shots. Yet nothing to show for it.
Not even a numbers advantage could ignite the Wolverines’ attack. Twice Michigan had such an advantage late in the fourth quarter — once after an Iowa yellow card and another when sophomore goalkeeper Anna Spieker was pulled — yet neither chance generated a significant scoring opportunity.
While the loss is undoubtedly a sour end to what was a strong regular season, the team still has plenty to play for with the Big Ten Tournament getting underway Thursday. Postseason play offers Michigan’s quartet of seniors — Dowthwaite, Guadalupe Fernandez Lacort, Fay Keijer and Kate Walker — a chance at elongating their collegiate careers.
“Hopefully we learn and fix some of the issues that need to get fixed from the regular season and flip the switch so we can improve it for the tournament,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz.