After six consecutive penalty corners and six shots by the Michigan field hockey team in the final five minutes, Halle O’Neill had one last chance to keep the fifth-ranked Wolverines alive.
But like previous attempts, the sophomore back’s was unsuccessful. With the clock running down, Michigan attempted to gain another corner on review, but that, too, proved fruitless. Time expired and the Wolverines lost to No. 14 Wake Forest, 3-2.
In a weekend defined by missed opportunities, Michigan would ultimately fall in both games of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge — losing to No. 2 North Carolina, 5-1, on Saturday before falling to the Demon Deacons on Sunday.
Already fielding a relatively young squad due to graduation losses, the Wolverines were forced to toy with their lineup because of injuries — most notably one to sophomore midfielder Kayla Reed. In all, five players with little or no collegiate playing time made starts. And while the inexperience showed, so did Michigan’s ability to keep itself in games against top opponents.
“It was a great opportunity for our younger players to get into games,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “ … They were able to get some really important experience. It’ll help us be better.”
On Saturday, it took less than five minutes for the Wolverines to get on the board against the Tar Heels. O’Neill took a pass from junior midfielder Fay Keijer and tipped the ball in from the right post to give Michigan the early lead. But two minutes later, North Carolina responded with an equalizer and would take the lead by the end of the half on a penalty stroke.
The second half is where things started to go sideways. The Tar Heels began to dominate possession and their corner opportunities vasty outnumbered the Wolverines’, while Michigan struggled to convert its own scoring chances. After North Carolina’s fifth goal, freshman goalkeeper Anna Spieker was replaced by sophomore goalkeeper Sidonie LaPlante. LaPlante held the Tar Heels scoreless the rest of the way, but it was too little, too late.
“It’s not an easy thing to get in there and play the first game of the season and having that be your first game ever,” Pankratz said. “So I was proud of (the goalkeepers) for getting in there and having some poise and communicating with the defense really well.”
Against Wake Forest, the Wolverines again had an early advantage, but failed to hold it.
Five minutes in, senior forward Emma Way punched the ball into the right corner of the cage. The Demon Deacons evened the score early in the second half. Both teams would score once more before Wake Forest converted the eventual winning goal with 10 minutes remaining.
In the waning minutes of the game, the six penalty corners brought a flurry of scoring chances for Michigan — but one by one, the Wolverines failed to convert. After three blocked shots, four saves and the failed replay review, Michigan had exhausted its second chances.
And though the Wolverines had three times as many shots and six times as many corners, Wake Forest made the most of what it did have, and that made all the difference.
“You have to be able to win the circles,” Pankratz said. “… Both defensively and in the attack circles. So when we start finishing some of these great opportunities that we’re getting, things are going to go better for us.”