Senior back Maggie Bettez crouched in the back left corner of Ocker Field, moving the ball into place as she prepared to put it in play. Her teammates lined up on the semicircle surrounding the goal as Northwestern’s three backs joined their goalkeeper in the net to defend against the penalty corner.
As soon as the ball left Bettez’s stick, the players sprung into action. Northwestern’s defenders flew forward, covering Michigan’s attackers, who quickly pulled the ball outside the circle before moving back in to take a shot on goal. The Wildcats not lined up in the net, who had been waiting at midfield for the ball to be put into play, rushed back into the fray.
Penalty corners played a major role in the Michigan field hockey team’s 3-1 victory over Northwestern in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament Sunday. The Wolverines (13-5 overall, 7-1 Big Ten) earned five corners in each half, helping Michigan keep the pressure on the visiting Wildcats (9-10, 3-5) throughout the game. This also resulted in the majority of Michigan’s 24 shots on goal.
“We feel really confident in our offensive corners,” Bettez said. “It’s something we practice a lot, so when it comes time in the game, we just fall back on the training that we’ve had, and we just want to get it right every time. It’s kind of muscle memory at that point.”
In field hockey, a team receives a penalty corner as a result of a foul inside the circle. The offensive team can line up as many as nine players; the defending team can only have four plus the goalkeeper. One player on offense lines up on the corner to put the ball in play, known as the insertion. Once the ball is inserted, it must leave the circle before it can be shot, and the players on the defensive team not lined up can run into the play.
Most teams practice several different corners, and the coach will call a specific play for each corner depending on the opponent, the score of the game, the time remaining in the game or a particular player or defensive lineup.
“We’re always practicing every day to be super precise with our corner execution,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “We had about four or five corners that we had planned just for Northwestern and we were just trying to execute them under pressure, and I thought we did a good job of that today.”
The Wolverines’ next game is the Big Ten semifinal against Iowa on Friday in Evanston. They will look to continue improving on their offensive efficiency and on capitalizing on their corners as they continue into the postseason.