Does ‘the hot hand’ exist?

Apparently it does – if only on the field hockey turf. All signs of this statistical question mark were confirmed as Penn State (8-12 overall, 4-4 Big Ten) – a team that opened the season with seven straight losses came within an overtime goal of stealing the Big Ten Tournament championship from the likes of top-seeded Maryland and Iowa.

The first stop of this improbable march was a 2-1 victory last Thursday against Michigan (13-6, 5-3) a team which has experienced nearly the opposite trajectory of the Nittany Lions. 

The Wolverines endured one of the toughest regular season schedules in the country. Victories against Connecticut, Maryland and Iowa were Michigan’s most notable notches on the rifle. Less surprising was a 3-1 victory at home against a seemingly hapless Penn State squad a few weeks ago, marked by four periods of consistent possession and even scoring.

The Nittany Lions returned the favor with a home win of their own, knocking the Wolverines out of the conference tournament and threatening to abort the remainder of their 2019 campaign. But after four uneasy days, Michigan found itself a beneficiary of an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament. The team will travel to Trager Stadium in Kentucky to take on Louisville in their first round match this weekend.

The Michigan field hockey program declined to make coach Marcia Pankratz or players available to The Daily for this story.

The Wolverines’ aggressive tactics made them a tough out. Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz began making substitutions just six minutes into the contest and would continue to do so throughout in total, 18 players received minutes.

The numerical results were similar to those from the meeting of these two teams a few weeks ago: Michigan recorded consistent quantities of shots on target and penalty corners every quarter, no doubt thanks to the fresh legs created by frequent player replacement. On the defensive side of the ball, the Wolverines managed to stymie the Nittany Lions for 57 out of 60 minutes. 

The three-minute lapse was all Penn State would need, forcing a pair of penalty corners in the third quarter’s first minutes. The danger of the first was mitigated by the Wolverines’ defensive five before a shot on target was recorded, but Michigan could not drive the ball out of its defensive third before the second penalty corner was created.

This one would prove troublesome. Sophomore goalkeeper Anna Spieker saved the first shot, but not the following attempt by Paityn Wirth. Minutes later, off another penalty corner, Meghan Reese scored on a one-touch volley well within the circle. 

The Wolverines struck back late in the third quarter thanks to a penalty corner of their own. Junior defender Halle O’Neill notched her second goal of the season thanks to her direct receipt of the corner from sophomore midfielder Kathryn Peterson. 

Michigan’s control of the game, the two penalty corner episodes notwithstanding, propounded the frustration of a close loss in an important context. The Wolverines outshot the Nittany Lions nine to four, racking up at least one shot per quarter. Penn State goalkeeper Brie Barraco made eight saves, keeping the Nittany Lions afloat despite the apparent incompetence of their back line. 

With four minutes to play, Pankratz called Spieker out of goal in a last ditch effort to tie the game. The decision failed to move the needle offensively, and the Wolverines ducked out of State College – and the conference tournament – as the first victims of Penn State’s hot hand.

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