With packed stands, cheerleaders and the Michigan Marching Band playing the “Rocky” theme, the scene was hardly unusual for a Michigan sporting event — except this was a field hockey game. The team pulled out all the stops to honor its five seniors at the last game on home turf for the 2013 season.
And if not for those seniors, the band wouldn’t have gotten to play “The Victors” after the 4-3 win, the cheerleaders wouldn’t have performed an end-of-game dance and the largest crowd of the season would have left disappointed. The Wolverines would have lost their undefeated home record to unranked Indiana.
“We weren’t losing today,” said senior captain Rachel Mack. “We really came together when we needed to.”
Fifth-year senior Alice Brown scored her first career goal to tie Saturday’s game with Indiana with 10 minutes remaining. Mack sealed the comeback with a goal in the final three minutes.
Senior day usually ignites passion for a team – no player wants to lose her last time playing at home. But the distractions of senior day seemed to dominate the drive to win in the first half of Michigan’s game against Indiana. Parents and pregame ceremonies may have led to a flat first half and a hole that the Michigan seniors had to dig themselves out of. And they did.
“The mark of a good team is to be able to win even if you don’t have your ‘A’ game,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “That they can play through that and turn it around.”
Tensions were high after the Wolverines fell behind 2-1. Senior goalkeeper Haley Jones had an altercation with the referee over an Indiana goal off a corner. She argued that the corner was too high, but the referees still ruled it a goal. As the game got dirtier, Mack also had words with the referee about the lack of penalty calls.
“After that goal, it was really a matter of getting in everyone’s head and getting connected.” Jones said.
The seniors credited Pankratz’s pep talk for getting the team fired up to come back in the last few minutes.
“I just told them that they controlled their own destinies,” Pankratz said. “So go out and earn it.”
The seniors took that to heart. After the huddle, the team scored three goals — two from players being honored — in the last 12 minutes to win the game 4-3. The team has relied on them all season, and in the final game they pulled out the win in the last minutes.
The seniors were at the forefront of the comeback. Their leadership, experience and commitment to the undefeated home record produced a win even when it looked impossible.
“This is the last game with girls that we have grown up with over the past four years,” Mack said. “We don’t want to let them down.”