After ending the regular season on a two-game losing skid, the Michigan field hockey team is ready for a turnaround. And the Wolverines (3-3 Big Ten, 8-11 overall) have no other option in the one-and-done Big Ten tournament that starts today in Bloomington.
“(Last weekend’s losses) add to the fire,” redshirt junior Heather Wiley said. “I think we just want to spite it and blow everyone away right off the bat.”
After posting an unblemished regular season record in 2007, this year’s unranked finish has fueled the Wolverines and they are ready to go big in what could be their last tournament of the season.
Michigan has historically played its best in its most important games, making them less concerned about their late-season struggles.
The Wolverines are looking to capture their fifth Big Ten championship this weekend since joining the conference in 1994.
“We have the ability to be successful if we take one match at a time, and that is what we are doing,” Michigan coach Nancy Cox said.
The tournament winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, and with Michigan’s lackluster record, the only way it can get into the competition is by winning the conference title.
The Wolverines are seeded fourth in the Big Ten after losing to Iowa on Sunday in a battle for the second seed. They will play No. 5-seed Ohio State, a team they beat 3-2 in the regular season, in the first round of the tournament. Top seed Penn State awaits Michigan in the semifinals if the Wolverines beat the Buckeyes.
“Coming off the loss from Iowa on Sunday was hard, but I think it actually works in our favor to play Ohio State and then Penn State and go that route instead of playing Michigan State or Iowa again,” senior captain Michaela McDermott said.
The team is confident it can go far in the postseason, which Michigan did in 2005 when the Wolverines, seeded fourth, won the Big Ten title.
“A lot of the teams we are going to be playing we played in the regular season,” McDermott said. “Penn State beat us in the regular season but I feel in college sports it is hard to beat a team twice. If you see them again in the same season it is going to be a different outcome. If we do get a chance to play Penn State, I think it will be a very different outcome.”
For three Michigan seniors this could be their last tournament as Wolverines, making it especially important and emotional for them. Any game could be their last donning the maize and blue, and they feel that urgency.
“We know we have to win,” McDermott said. “It’s one and done. If you lose you are done.”