After last Thursday’s overtime loss to California, Michigan field hockey senior co-captain Sarah Wilhite said the result was disappointing, but what mattered most was winning games against Big Ten teams.

So before the team’s Big Ten season opener against Northwestern Saturday, she and her co-captains decided to bring in some help.

The players asked several Michigan field hockey alumni, including Lori Hillman (class of ‘06) and Adrienne Hortillosa (class of ‘05) to come to campus, talk to the team and pump them up for their upcoming Big Ten season.

And it worked.

Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 4-6 overall) easily defeated the Wildcats, 3-0, at Phyllis Ocker Field. Michigan has now won its last 17 games against Northwestern, with the last loss in the series came in 1997.

The pep talk and the victory came at just the right time for the Wolverines. Before Saturday, the defending Big Ten champions had lost two consecutive overtime contests and had gone 0-6 against ranked opponents this season.

“It was really cool to have some big-time names here like Hillman and Hortillosa,” sophomore Meredith Way said. “The alumni came in and told us about how every season they started off struggling and ended up winning Big Tens and making the NCAA Tournament. And just hearing that helped us remember that the Big Ten season is a fresh start.”

No. 19 Michigan controlled the game from start to finish — the complete opposite of its overtime loss to California. In that game, the Wolverines tallied eight shots on goal, and took just four penalty corner shots compared to the Bears’ 11.

Michigan out-shot the Wildcats 20-4, including a 13-2 differential in the second half. The Wolverines also took 11 penalty corner shots while limiting Northwestern to just three.

Way had another outstanding game, scoring all three of the game’s goals on penalty-corner conversions and improving her season total to nine. The hat-trick performance was her second of the season, an achievement no Wolverine has accomplished since Jessica Blake posted four-goal and a three-goal efforts in 2004. She has now recorded at least one point in seven of the team’s 10 games this season, including the last three.

Wilhite recorded an assist on Way’s first and third goals. Though she didn’t earn points during the first game of the season, she has tallied at least one point in each of the nine games since. She leads the team with 24 points.

Michigan coach Nancy Cox also praised the efforts of her forwards in their improved performance on Saturday.

“One of the things about when you have a young group, in terms of our overall presence on the field, is they occasionally aren’t so confident,” Cox said. “Today, what you saw was young women stepping up to play like we know that they can. Our force, our presence on the field was much better today than it has been.”

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