Fifteen games between Michigan’s women lacrosse team and Northwestern — and zero wins for the Wolverines.
The third meeting this season, the second game in under two weeks and last year’s NCAA Tournament loss all have one thing in common: Michigan’s inability to beat Northwestern.
On a last minute defeat, the No. 15 Wolverines (12-8 overall) fell to No. 1 Wildcats (18-1), 8-7. A game that never fell too far out of Michigan’s reach, ended up slipping through its fingers in the final minutes of the game.
“We’re really proud of our girls,” Wolverines coach Hannah Nielsen said. “From being beaten pretty handedly by that team like 10 days ago, we had them for 55 minutes of the game.”
For 55 minutes of the 60 minute game, it looked as if Michigan had finally found the secret to beating Northwestern.
The first quarter started with a quick goal in the first minute for the Wildcats. In past games, scoring the first goal sent them on a run anywhere from three to five goals, and usually put the Wolverines in a place to simply need to fight back into the game. Except on Sunday, Michigan flipped the script.
The Wolverines kept the game to a one goal lead, 5-4, after the first half and, similar to their game against Central Michigan, the offense went into the second half with vengeance and determination.
Michigan’s success came down to honing in on its biggest issue this season — converting on penalties with a woman up advantage. In the first game between these two teams, yellow cards plagued the Wolverines, often having two players out at the same time on a yellow card. However, Northwestern changed its role and took the majority of the fouls giving Michigan the rare time to strike with a weak defense.
The first two goals of the game came from graduate attacker Kaley Thompson and graduate midfielder Erin Garvey with both goals netted in a woman up advantage for the Wolverines. Those two goals, and the Wildcats as their own enemy with penalties, kept Michigan from being on the end of a large deficit.
With conversion working in the Wolverines favor, they had the opportunity to slow their possession down and keep the game tight all the way to the end.
“Definitely part of the plan was to slow down the offense and to go later in the shot clock just so they didn’t have the ball in their stick,” Nielsen said.
That plan succeeded for the majority of the game and allowed Michigan to have a one goal lead, 6-5, going into the fourth quarter. However, the final quarter became its worst enemy while Northwestern came alive.
In the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, the Wildcats put up three goals in quick succession to take a two goal lead, 8-6 — the largest gap of the day for the Wolverines. While in the beginning Michigan focused on simply retaining possession, the plan completely fell apart. With eight turnovers in just the fourth quarter, the Wolverines were consistently giving the ball in return for a Northwestern goal.
With five minutes remaining, sophomore midfielder Julia Schwabe cut through the center with an assist from sophomore attacker Jill Smith to push the game to a one goal game. Except, at that point, the Wildcats were too hot and Michigan was ice cold, ultimately ending the game, 8-7.
What would have become a monumental win for the Wolverines, turned into another loss in the column.
“I think what I said in the locker room was I’m sick of saying we were so close and sick of saying next year,” Nielsen said. “I’m sick of saying we almost had them and I think the players returning share that sentiment.”
Being sick is a battle, and Northwestern is the virus. But finding treatment could be key to Michigan ending their next season with a win instead of facing another detrimental loss in the future.