Michigan squeaks past Spartans in overtime for first Big Ten victory

By Zach Shaw, Daily Sports Writer
Published October 14, 2012

Leslie Smith carried the ball up the left side towards the goal. Running out of room, Smith, a redshirt sophomore back, passed the ball across the net right in front of the goalie. Freshman forward Aisling Naughton was there to receive it and quickly chipped it in the net for the score.

The goal sealed a 3-2 overtime victory over rival Michigan State, giving Michigan its first Big Ten victory of the season.

Naughton’s goal capped an eventful day for Michigan Field Hockey. In addition to being the only regular-season meeting between the rival Spartans and Wolverines, Ocker Field was filled with pink to help spread breast cancer awareness and the game was also televised by the Big Ten Network.

With a packed stadium, television cameras rolling and their biggest rival lined up opposite them, the Wolverines appeared jittery as the game began. The nerves showed, as the Spartans jumped out to an early 1-0 lead less than two minutes into the game. The Spartans continued their attack, out-possessing and out-shooting the Wolverines for much of the first half.

Senior goalkeeper Haley Jones felt that the Spartans weren’t out-playing the Wolverines, but were managing to out-think them.

“There was a lot of buildup to today,” Jones said. “And I think that can sometimes hurt your team negatively and make it hard to focus solely on the game. In the first half we were just a little excited about everything going on.”

After surrendering their second goal with 13 minutes remaining in the half, the Wolverines appeared to settle in. The first half ended with a number of scoring opportunities for the Wolverines coming up just short. They headed into the half down two goals, but with momentum from the first half’s final minutes.

Heading into the half down two goals was not ideal for Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz, but she was more concerned with the effort of her team.

“The younger players were distracted (in the first half), and that’s just the way it is,” She said. “We had to start playing field hockey instead of just standing around. We had to get back to the basics, remembering our tactics and just playing simple field hockey.”

The Wolverines stayed true to Pankratz’s word. Just over minute into the second half, Junior forward Rachael Mack — the Wolverines’ leading goal-scorer — was able to cut the deficit to 2-1. Following the score, the Wolverines continued to fire shots at the Michigan State goal. Less than five minutes after Mack’s goal, freshman forward Shannon Scavelli tied it up with one of her own.

The remainder of the second half was a back-and-forth battle resulting in no goals. In the final minute, Michigan managed to frantically fire off four shots but each came up short. Despite the rallying effort in regulation by the Wolverines, the outcome was to be decided in overtime.

The momentum continued for the Wolverines in overtime. After starting the period down a player due to penalty, the Wolverines regrouped and out-shot the Spartans 4-0 in overtime. After four minutes of the extra period, Naughton finally broke through with the goal, capping a long and hard-fought rally.

“We decided that this was our game and we had to put it away,” Naughton said. “We just fought until the end and decided we would leave nothing on the pitch, and that’s what we did.”

The Wolverines acknowledged that this is just another win, but Naughton knows that it can mean a lot for the team moving forward.

“(The win) gives us great confidence,” Naughton said. “Heading into our other games and the Big Ten Tournament in a few weeks, it will be great to have this win behind us.”

The victory gives the Wolverines their first Big Ten win of the year. They improve to 1-2 in the Big Ten and 8-5 overall. Next up for the Wolverines is Ohio State, who will visit Ocker Field on Sunday at 1 p.m.