EAST LANSING – Against in-state rival Michigan State, an underachieving Michigan team came in looking for its first conference win of the season.
Directly adjacent to Spartan Stadium – where the Michigan football team prevailed last Saturday – the No. 14 Michigan field hockey team (1-3 Big Ten, 7-6 overall) hoped to reverse its fortune at the Michigan State Field Hockey Complex. The two programs both have a storied history, but the Wolverines have a 30-22-6 edge in the all-time series. As if this rivalry needed any more fuel to burn, both Michigan and No. 10 Michigan State (0-3, 8-5) came into yesterday’s match winless in conference play and in dire need of a victory.
Freshman forward Erin Dallas scored for Michigan two minutes into the match. From that point on, both sides played physical field hockey, with scoring opportunities at a premium. In the end, Dallas’s goal proved to be the game’s only score and the Wolverines came away with a 1-0 win.
Fans on both sides understood the importance of the game and were involved from the start. Michigan cowbell chants bounced off the bleachers, to the chagrin of the Spartan faithful, and the intensity in the crowd was a reflection of the Wolverines’ play on the field.
“It was a very closely contested match,” Michigan coach Nancy Cox said. “(Goalie) Beth Riley stepped up big for us in the second half.”
Riley stopped seven Michigan State shots – including three penalty-corners – to record her 12th career shutout. Riley needs to blank just one more opponent to take over fifth place on Michigan’s all-time shutout ranking.
It was clear that Michigan felt a huge sense of relief after it suffered two difficult losses against Indiana and Penn State last weekend. Many of the players also received some extra satisfaction from beating the Spartans.
“It was a great match for us, and we’re really excited to beat Michigan State on its field,” Riley said. “It feels great to be back in the win column. We’re happy with how we played, and we’re going to move on from here.”
The Wolverines put nine shots on goal, but they believe their solid team defense and overall intensity in the match will help them as the season progresses. Cox thinks her team may have turned a corner.
“All of the adversity that the kids have seen early on is going to pay big dividends and yesterday everyone got to see that,” Cox said. “This game could potentially be the tipping point for us.”