It was the end of last week’s
“Terrible Tuesday” practice at Ocker Field, and the No.
5 Michigan field hockey team was exhausted.

Kate Green

Coach Marcia Pankratz could hear her players collectively
gasping for air, but she wasn’t finished with them yet
— there was a Big Ten Tournament championship and a national
title on the line.

Pankratz gathered the team around its penalty strokers, who have
a job similar to penalty shooters in soccer.

“If she misses, everybody runs except the shooter!”
Pankratz yelled.

Senior April Fronzoni missed. Everybody ran, and Fronzoni tried
to follow her teammates out of the gate.

“I was ready to go, but (Pankratz) was like, ‘No,
no,’ ” Fronzoni said.

Fronzoni was forced to watch the others run because she
didn’t execute in a pressure-packed situation.

“It’s a team game,” Pankratz explained.
“If somebody misses class, the whole team goes to study hall.
You keep each other accountable. In a match and in your program,
you’re accountable to something bigger than yourself.

“I think that, especially for women, making everyone else
run except you (because of your mistake) puts more pressure on
you.”

Throughout every “Terrible Tuesday,” the 39-year-old
Pankratz drills these ideals into the girls’ heads.

“It’s overtime! Everybody’s tired! Execute
when you’re tired! Learn how to finish under pressure!”
she yells incessantly.

Watching a practice at Ocker Field —
“terrible” or not — told me all I needed to know
about why Pankratz’s program is the only one in my four years
at Michigan to win a team national championship.

Pankratz, who took over the program in August of 1996, is a
master motivator. By creating a close-knit family atmosphere, she
develops a trusting relationship with the girls. She has admittedly
high expectations for her players, and, in turn, the players expect
the same from her.

Pankratz relates her coaching philosophy to one of her favorite
anecdotes:

“There’s a guy playing the piano, and a little boy
looks at him and says, ‘I’d give my life to play the
piano like that.’ And the guy is like, ‘I did.’
He gave his life to get there. These girls aren’t champions
and great students by snapping their fingers.”

Pankratz’s teams at Michigan have been champions often.
The Wolverines won the national title in 2001, the first
women’s team national title in University history.
They’ve won the Big Ten regular season title four times and
the tournament title twice. Michigan had never even made the NCAA
Tournament before 1999. Since then, Pankratz has guided the
Wolverines to four straight tournament bids (by all appearances, it
will be five after tomorrow’s NCAA Tournament selection is
completed).

Pankratz was a star player at Iowa in the mid-’80s and a
crucial member of the U.S. field hockey team from 1985-to-96. She
knew her arrival in Ann Arbor would bring success to Michigan,
which she previously considered a “diamond in the
rough” in the sport.

Without hesitation, Pankratz will tell you it was her
“master plan” to turn Michigan into a national
powerhouse in a few short years — even though recruiting was
at a “complete standstill” after the departure of coach
Patti Smith after the 1995 season.

Then living in Atlanta as a member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic
team, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Pankratz vividly remembers
finding out the Michigan job was available.

“When the job opened, I was in Australia, and (North
Carolina coach) Karen (Shelton) called me and said, ‘Your job
opened,’ ” Pankratz recalled. “I knew it. I was
going to get it, and we were going to be great.”

As much as the players deserve credit for how
“great” they’ve become, even they see how
Pankratz’s personality infuses itself into the way they
perform.

“The name Marcia Pankratz goes along with Michigan and the
mentality of the practices and games that we play,” freshman
Jill Civic said. “She feeds the energy into this team, and
it’s seen in our practices on a ‘Terrible
Tuesday.’ ”

The Wolverines’ travel schedule for this past
weekend’s Big Ten Tournament was posted on Pankratz’s
door Wednesday. One of yesterday’s scheduled events caught my
eye.

Sunday, 1 p.m. — Win the Big Ten Tournament.

It’s that “get out of our way” mentality that
has propelled Pankratz’s program to the top of the Big Ten
year in and year out. It’s because of that mentality that I
was shocked to hear about the team’s 1-0 overtime loss to No.
7 Penn State Friday in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal.

Just three minutes into overtime, Penn State’s Timarie
Legel beat freshman goalie Beth Riley. Legel took advantage of a
red card issued to Michigan defender Stephanie Johnson, which
forced the top-seeded Wolverines to play one woman down for the
final 24 minutes of the game.

Only Pankratz knows what tomorrow’s “Terrible
Tuesday” will hold for the Wolverines, but if I had to bet,
the Wolverines will hear something like this:

“It’s overtime! You’re undermanned!
Everybody’s tired! Execute when you’re tired! Learn how
to finish under pressure!”

J. Brady McCollough can be reached at
“mailto:bradymcc@umich.edu”>bradymcc@umich.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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