After enduring the season’s first couple winless weeks on the road, it’s safe to say that the Michigan women’s lacrosse team was eager to return to Ann Arbor on Friday, where the team hasn’t lost in the regular season since 2018.
That comfort wasn’t achieved so easily, however, as the No. 21 Wolverines (1-3 Big Ten) had to fight tooth and nail for more than 60 minutes of play to lift themselves to a 12-11 overtime victory over No. 14 Rutgers (3-2 Big Ten).
Michigan seemed to have everything under control early on, almost doubling the Scarlet Knights’ shots on goal (15-8) by the end of the first half. But the physicality of the matchup kept the score even, with Rutgers midfielder Ashley Campo and Michigan’s senior attacker Caitlin Muir executing on the abundant free position shot opportunities.
Heading into halftime with the score tied at five apiece, the fortitude built in the wake of an adverse road trip proved vital for the Wolverines.
“We’ve been focusing all week on ‘focus,’ ” Michigan coach Hannah Nielsen said. “I think what’s been hurting us the last three games, is just focusing on key moments and a lot of key moments in this game required that.”
The teams went shot-for-shot in the second half, burying more than a few. Dialing the focus up to a 10 became a necessity.
It was redshirt senior midfielder Molly Garrett who got the scoring started with her second goal of the game at 28:03 minutes. The change in energy from that point on was palpable, especially on two unassisted goals from senior midfielder Maggie Kane.
“It’s a tight game, so that can lead to a few mistakes from just pushing it too hard and taking opportunities that weren’t necessarily the best ones to take,” Garrett said. “But we stuck together, and we kept pushing forward and didn’t let our heads fall down at all.”
And it became increasingly clear that there would be practically no room for the Wolverines’ heads to fall at any point, as Rutgers, led by attacker Taralyn Naslonski, reliably neutralized Michigan’s scoring sprees at every turn.
With the clock winding down into the last two minutes and the game knotted at 11, the Wolverines called a crucial timeout following a huge save from senior goalie Arielle Weissman.
With the 12-game home win streak still on the line and the thirst for end-of-regulation heroics heightened, the pressure of the moment was tangible. The composure that was a centerpiece of the Wolverines’ preparation for this game, however, never relented in the eyes of head coach Hannah Nielsen.
“Honestly, some of those last timeouts were pretty casual,” she said. “The girls were singing and dancing and (the message) was just to go out and play – park your mistakes you’ve made up until this point, and the only thing that matters is the next play.”
There ultimately proved to be more than one “next play,” as the Scarlet Knights made a defensive stop of their own to send the game into overtime.
The teams were still in a deadlock when, with the sudden-death period soon creeping down into the final of its three minutes, the answer was found. Garrett, after already netting three goals in regulation, charged up the middle to score the game-winning goal and clear a jubilant Michigan bench.
“We had that play written up going into the overtime to get the backside occupied and then give me the ball to set up a one-on-one,” Garrett said. “So basically we’re just taking what she gave me, and she gave me the inside. I took my stick and just tried to shoot it low and make the goal, and it worked out.”
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