A stroke, the result of a defensive foul that prevents a goal from being scored, is the most severe penalty given in college field hockey.
They are a fairly uncommon, but in Friday’s Big Ten Tournament semi-final match between No. 4 Penn State (7-1 Big Ten, 15-4 overall), and No. 6 Michigan (5-3, 13-5), they were the centerpoint of play. The Wolverines secured their spot in the tournament final against Northwestern with a 2-1 win over Penn State, scoring both of their goals on stroke shots.
Prior to Friday’s matchup, the two teams met once before back in September. That game resulted in a 2-1 win for the Nittany Lions, despite Michigan outshooting them 23-3. On Friday, the Wolverines again substantially outshot Penn State, 16-3. This time, the final score reflected their dominance.
The difference this time was strong defense across the pitch.
“I thought our team defense was excellent,” Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz said. “Penn State is fast and talented and our ability to play very solid one-on-one and two-on-one defense really won the game.”
The Nittany Lions are known for having one of the strongest offenses in the country, but Michigan was up for the challenge. The Wolverines’ pressing line quickly shut down almost every offensive opportunity that Penn State found, giving Michigan the upper hand in possession time.
“Penn State had some really strong players in their attacking game,” Michigan midfielder Katherine Peterson said. “We were able to step up to them, channel them into less dangerous areas, and get tackles in. It took a lot of double teaming and even triple teaming sometimes, but I think our preparation there really showed.”
With the Wolverines’ defense leading the play and causing turnovers, Michigan found offensive breakaways. It had eight corners but was unable to convert them into goals.
The game was scoreless at the half, reflecting how the Wolverines’ struggled to convert opportunities. They made adjustments at halftime that allowed them to find success in the third quarter, though.
“We made a concerted effort to keep it on the right side (in the second half),” Pankratz said. “This helped keep great possession and kept momentum in our favor.”
This momentum came to a head two minutes into the third quarter, when Peterson was awarded a stroke. She didn’t let this opportunity slip by, sinking the ball deep into the right corner of the net, giving them a 1-0 lead.
Afterwards, there was an obvious boost in Michigan’s confidence and energy. The Nittany Lions struggled to get the ball onto their attacking end of the field, putting the Wolverines in the driver’s seat as the fourth quarter began.
In a bit of déjà vu, a defensive penalty on Penn State led to another stroke for Peterson less than two minutes into the final quarter. She put the ball into the cage again, scoring off a shot that was identical to her first.
“My team was huddled up at the top of the circle and everyone was like, ‘Do the same thing’, ” Peterson said. “Once they made that decision for me I felt that the pressure was off of my shoulders and was a lot more on the goalie.”
With a two-goal lead in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines played with more control and ease during the remainder of the game. They handled the ball well and moved through the midfield swiftly. In the final minutes of play, the Nittany Lions found a breakaway down field.
After Michigan blocked a corner shot, Penn State forward Sophia Gladiex hit a reverse chip that put her team on the board, making the score 2-1, with only one minute remaining.
Despite the increased pressure, Michigan controlled the ball for the last minute, ending the game on top and advancing to play No. 4 Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship at noon on Sunday.
“I was proud of our team for finishing it,” Pankratz said. “To be resilient and stay mentally tough and finish the game gives them confidence going into the final, no matter what happens.”
With their strong defense, and even stronger determination, the Wolverines have momentum that can play a key role heading into Sunday’s championship match.