After losing three out of the last seven games, the regular season did not feel like a fitting end to the careers of the five seniors on the Michigan field hockey team who led the program into the sport”s elite.
But they knew that the NCAA Tournament was a new beginning, and they took advantage of it.
Yesterday, senior captain Catherine Foreman scored a slow-rolling goal off a Kristi Gannon feed in overtime to defeat Michigan State 2-1, concluding a wild weekend in which Michigan also defeated powerhouse North Carolina 5-2, and earned its second trip to the NCAA Final Four in three years.
“Our team really pulled through today,” Foreman said. “And as far as our seniors go, I feel like we”re pretty happy.”
The goal ended an overtime against the Spartans that the Wolverines dominated. Michigan State controlled the final 20 minutes of the second half but the momentum shifted when Michigan State defender Judith van Haeringen was given a yellow card with 3:22 remaining giving the Wolverines a player advantage for the final part of regulation and the first minute-and-a-half of overtime.
Then in overtime, Michigan took advantage as the play switched from 11-on-11 to seven-on-seven.
“We emphasize our fitness and our speed. When you take players off the field and when you take players off the field there”s a lot more ground to cover,” Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz said. “We feel really confident in the overtimes just in the talent that we have.”
Michigan took control early. Seven minutes in, freshman Adrienne Hortillosa deked the Michigan State goaltender Lauren Hess, leaving her with a wide open net. But Hortillosa”s shot was blocked by a Michigan State defender”s foot giving the Wolverines a penalty stroke.
“I just pulled to the left and it seemed like it was an open goal and I had my head down so I took a reverse shot,” Hortillosa said. “Then I was lying on the ground and I saw that the ball hit the girl”s foot so I was kind of disappointed, but I had a lot of faith in Stephanie Johnson.”
Johnson blew the free chance over a diving Hess giving the Wolverines the early lead.
But the Spartans stole the momentum when forward Bridget Cooper floated the ball from the top of the circle over Michigan goalie Maureen Tasch and into the net tying the game.
In the second half, the Wolverines controlled early on, but the Spartans started to dominate with six shots and five penalty corners in the game”s final 20 minutes.
The Spartans appeared to take the lead with seven minutes remaining when a shot went by Tasch, but the goal was disallowed for a reason that the officials unspecified and Michigan State coach Michele Madison failed to understand.
“That (goal) will go up in hockey heaven,” Madison said.
The Wolverines got into Saturday”s second round match by upsetting North Carolina, a squad that had made the Final Four 12 of the last 15 years.
Both teams struggled to create anything offensively in the first half. But early in the second April Fronzoni stole a North Carolina clearing attempt leaving her with an open net to put the ball in giving the Wolverines the lead. Minutes later, Fronzoni got a breakaway by beating two defenders before faking out Tar Heel keeper Amy Tran to score again.
North Carolina”s Kerry Falgowski scored with 20 minutes remaining to put the Tar Heels within one but goals by Hortillosa, Molly Powers and Fronzoni put the game away.
“We just went out there (on Saturday) and we were all on fire,” Fronzoni said after her hat trick.
There was some controversy, however, over the fact that this was a match in which the higher seeded team had to travel. Traditionally the nation”s top four teams get to host a regional, meaning that this weekend”s events should have taken place in Chapel Hill. But because the NCAA needed to have one of the regional sites in the Midwest (both Ohio State and Michigan State were unable to host), the Tar Heels had to play the Wolverines on their home field.
“We didn”t care who we were playing or where we were playing,” North Carolina coach Karen Shelton said. “(We tried to) understand why the NCAA made the decision that they did.”
Michigan will now play Princeton, who upset defending national champion Old Dominion, on Friday at 4:30 in Kent, Ohio for the right to play for the national title, against either Wake Forest or Maryland this Sunday afternoon.