To say Sunday's field hockey game between Michigan and Northwestern had humble origins would be an understatement.
Passes skidded across the Evanston turf, still wet from two days of rain, and past the outstretched sticks of their targets. Possession deep in enemy territory was incredibly rare. Shots on goal were nonexistent.
But when the dust cleared, after 60 minutes of regulation and 20 of sudden-death overtime, followed by a penalty shootout that extended into sudden death, No. 7 Northwestern (10-2 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) edged out No. 9 Michigan (6-3, 1-1), 1-0 on Sunday.
After the dreary defensive gridlock that was the first quarter, the game began to open up for both squads. Buoyed by a group of forwards with elite stick technique and ball security, as well as legs that refused to turn into jelly, the Wildcats became dangerous in transition at a moment’s notice. The coast to coast capabilities of Northwestern forward Bente Baekers, among others, meant that the Wolverines’ back three had their work cut out for them.
That’s not to say Michigan didn’t do its own damage on offense. The Wolverines worked as a unit to gain an edge in time of possession and spent significant portions of the game with numbers in Wildcat territory.
Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz thought the team's success stemmed from “(focusing) on basics to keep possession and making good decisions around the ball.”
As regulation expired and teams shrunk from eleven to seven players, per the rules of overtime, common sense would have it that Northwestern and its talented group of attackers would have an advantage.
“(They) play really fast,” said senior midfielder Guadalupe Fernandez Lacort. “On defense (we tried to) get to the ball first.”
Michigan’s aggressiveness in only playing two at the back put the Wildcats on the ropes in the first overtime period. Led by senior midfielder Fay Keijer, junior midfielder Kayla Reed, and Lacort, the Wolverines tacked on four shots on target in the first golden goal session alone. Northwestern appeared to find their offensive footing in the second half of overtime, controlling possession thanks to their aforementioned ability to change fields on even the smallest of turnover opportunities.
But when overtime was over, neither unit had landed a decisive punch.
In the penalty shootout, four Wolverines and four Wildcats scored. The lone Michigan miss, originally a score by Fernandez Lacort, was wiped away because of a goalkeeper obstruction foul confirmed by video referral. With a chance to win for Northwestern on the 10th stroke of the penalty session, Wildcat Kayla Blas had the ball knocked away by sophomore goalkeeper Anna Speiker at the last moment.
Then it was onto sudden death, in which video referrals would haunt the Wolverines in a fatal way. Saar de Breij opened the scoring for Northwestern. Needing a goal to stay in the contest, Michigan sophomore Kathryn Peterson made junior Wildcat goalkeeper Florien Marcussen miss and appeared to score well within the eight allotted seconds. But when Northwestern asked for a replay review, the goal was negated after it was determined that the ball struck Peterson’s foot.
After a long sigh, Lacort talked about some positives she and the team will take away from Sunday. “I think we really had them,” she said. “We didn’t get the win, so it hurts, but I think today we got a little bit better.”