Every time Ohio State scored, Michigan sophomore forward Alicia Mayer was there to answer.
In a game where it was severely outshot (15-7) and outcornered (10-1) by a talented Buckeyes squad, the Michigan field hockey team relied on gritty defense, solid goaltending and a pair of markers from Mayer in a 3-2 victory yesterday at Phyllis Ocker Field.
Michigan (2-0 Big Ten, 6-6 overall) came into the game fired up to face its biggest rival after defeating Temple, 3-1, on Friday. Several former players, in town for Homecoming weekend, gave pregame pep talks. And after losing in their first five contests against ranked foes this season, the Wolverines couldn’t wait to take a crack at the Buckeyes.
“We came into this thinking there is no way we’re going to lose to Ohio State,” Mayer said. “We really needed this, because the beginning of the season didn’t go the way we wanted.”
The beginning of the game didn’t go the way Michigan wanted, either. Ohio State (0-3, 8-6) scored just 24 seconds into regulation.
Despite the early deficit, the Wolverines (2-0 Big Ten, 6-6 overall) weren’t intimidated.
“I knew we were definitely in the game,” Mayer said. “Sometimes we have little breakdowns here and there, but we never, ever think we’re out of a game. We kept coming back that much harder.”
Mayer’s confidence was well-founded.
Less than three minutes later, she deftly dribbled the ball inside the penalty circle and banged the Wolverines’ first shot of the game through the legs of Ohio State goalkeeper Lindsay Quintiliani to even the score.
“Ohio State is solid defensively,” Michigan coach Nancy Cox said. “Alicia was running through tackles. When they were stopping and breaking up the play, she was staying low and grounded over the ball and winning her one-on-ones.”
Senior tri-captain Stephanie Hoyer added a goal to give Michigan a 2-1 lead midway through the first half. For much of the game, it appeared the marker might be enough to ensure a Michigan victory.
Over and over, the Buckeyes (0-3 Big Ten, 8-6 overall) stormed through the midfield, only to see attacks thwarted by Wolverine defenders. Redshirt junior goalkeeper Paige Pickett made several sprawling saves and the Wolverines’ defense denied Ohio State’s first nine penalty corner attempts.
Michigan was able to neutralize Ohio State’s speedy forwards with organization and a tight defensive alignment.
“If everyone is where they need to be, the ball can’t get through us,”
But finally, on their third attempt in five minutes late in the second half, the Buckeyes converted on a redirected corner to even the score.
Just as it had a minute into the game, all the momentum rested with Ohio State. Michigan had not forced a corner since the halftime break and had tallied just a single shot in the second frame.
But once again, Mayer responded.
With the ball rolling towards Ohio State’s endline, Mayer instinctively broke towards the goal. Senior tri-captain Sarah Wilhite dug the ball out from between several defenders and flicked it towards the cage with an extended full-body dive.
From there, it was all Mayer. She raced past a defender to the ball and beat Quintiliani from close range for the deciding goal.
“I just happened to get my stick on the ball and keep it in bounds,” Mayer said. “I knew the goal was somewhere in that direction, so I shot it and it went in.”
And just like that, Mayer pushed that Michigan’s season back in the right direction.