On Saturday, the No. 3 Michigan field hockey team celebrated a senior class that had notched one postseason and three regular-season Big Ten titles, in addition to a Final Four appearance in 2017. With such a decorated class being honored, the Wolverines were determined to send their seniors off with a win.
They did just that. Michigan (10-2 overall, 6-0 Big Ten) defeated Indiana (1-13, 4-3 Big Ten) 3-0, in a season-ending matchup designated as non-conference due to COVID-19.
While the team’s final game at Phyllis Ocker Field was a celebration of the Wolverines’ departing veterans, the younger players impacted the match early.
Freshman midfielder Pilar Oliveros scored the first goal of her Michigan career with about a minute remaining in the first quarter. Redshirt junior forward Kate Burney extended the lead later on, netting her first of the season. Once again, the Wolverines were buoyed by the performance of its depth pieces.
“The Big Ten is a very difficult conference with some extraordinary teams, so being able to win the (regular season) championship has a lot to do with our depth,” Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz said. “We can really run two full lines of players and keep everybody fresh, so that versatility has meant a lot and you can see it today with Pili and Burney getting those first goals.”
During the stretches of time between those two scores, the Wolverines continued to dominate the Hoosiers with possession but struggled to find the back of the net from scoring range. In physical matchups that leave many bodies in the scoring circle with more loose officiating on the field, frustrations can mount. The Wolverines, however, stayed patient to eventually find both goals.
“Indiana’s goalie played a great game,” senior fullback Halle O’Neill said. “I mean, we had 29 shots on goal and we only put in three, so I think she played out of her mind. When you’re getting opportunities like that, eventually a couple of them will go in and it doesn’t have to be pretty — but pulling out three goals when they played like that I think is still a good accomplishment.”
Michigan extended its lead with a third goal in the fourth quarter, notching a score off of a tip from the penalty corner by senior midfielder Kayla Reed.
With an urgency to prepare for bigger things ahead, the Wolverines sought to continue cleaning up their finishes on the attacking end in the closing minutes. While junior goalkeeper Anna Spieker never had to touch the ball, occasional chances to sharpen up on defense also emerged.
As the clock hit all zeros, Michigan sent its seniors off celebrating with the best parting gift possible: a Big Ten regular-season title. And in a hard-fought battle to find the scoring column, its tendency to stiff-arm adversity was at the center of it all.