It may have been Meg Dowthwaite who scored the goal that put the No. 6 Michigan field hockey team (3-1 Big Ten, 7-4 overall) on the board in its eventual 3-2 win over No. 10 Northwestern (2-1, 7-5) on Friday. But to hear the junior forward tell it, she was just in the right place at the right time.
Instead, it was sophomore midfielder Kayla Reed whose perfectly-placed diagonal pass put Dowthwaite in position to hammer the ball straight into the goal.
“It was a great ball from Kayla,” Dowthwaite said. “And I was lucky that I was in the right position at the right time, to be honest.”
Added Reed: “I kinda got the ball on the right-hand side and kinda one of my specialties is going around the right, and I just saw it and took it and Meg was in the right spot.”
And though that goal was the most obvious example of midfield play creating opportunities for the Wolverines, it was far from the only time Michigan’s midfielders stepped up and found success.
Earlier in the season, the Wolverines struggled to score goals even with a litany of shots. Their one-dimensional offense relied on penalty corners and senior forward Emma Way. If Michigan wanted to score against an aggressive team like the Wildcats, it would be up to the midfielders to generate chances.
“Against Northwestern we were trying to transfer the ball to the other side and break their spine, as it’s called in field hockey,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “Which is, break their press. (That tactic) was really successful.”
Junior midfielder Guadalupe Fernandez Lacort was the main back-breaker. Playing in the center spot, Fernandez Lacort executed the transfer to near-perfection in order to open up the offense, then finished off the Wildcats with several steals that led to breakaways.
Reed and junior midfielder Fay Keijer took it from there, passing to the forwards inside the circle or taking shots themselves. Late in the first half, Keijer stole the ball from a Northwestern defender, dribbled into the circle and roofed a reverse chip into the cage to put the Wolverines up 2-1.
“Fay had a really strong game today,” Pankratz said. “She sometimes plays forward and then we bring her back into the midfield, so she’s versatile. … She was really reliable today.”
Three of Michigan’s main midfielders graduated last year, forcing the Wolverines to experiment with new looks for the unit. It’s been a learning curve for the younger players, who sometimes struggled to find each other and get into position.
But as Reed came along the right and executed the perfect pass for the assist, as Keijer got the steal and the goal, as Michigan got three goals and a win against a top-10 conference rival, one thing was clear: Unlike other games, the Wolverines didn’t just have to rely on star fowards and penalties. Instead, the midfielders stepped up, created their own opportunities and became the key cogs in Michigan’s victory.
“Our transferring through the midfield is, I reckon, some of the best we’ve seen in a long time,” Reed said. “We’re able to get the ball from side to side, through (Ferndandez Lacort) in that center and it’s looking really nice.”