There is no doubt that No. 17 Michigan field hockey team has high hopes for its season. Coming off of last year’s Big Ten title, the Wolverines (0-1 Big Ten, 6-4 overall) still remain among the top teams in the conference.
But after losing its conference opener on Sunday against No. 6 Penn State, 4-3, Michigan learned it still has at least one team to look up at.
“Penn State is a really strong team this year,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “Penn State is the favorite this year and playing them at home in the first match is jumping in the deep end right away.”
It’s easy to conclude how the Wolverines lost the game after getting outshot 30-14 and outcornered 13-3.
Yet, Pankratz said the loss will prepare the team for the rest of the season. With 19 first- and second-year players on the roster, that experience might help Michigan retain its conference title.
“We have seven freshman starting,” said redshirt sophomore defenseman Leslie Smith. “(This game) was kind of like a wakeup call for them.”
In Michigan’s game against Penn State (2-0, 10-2), the Nittany Lions jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first half of Sunday’s game before the Wolverines could register more than one shot.
“The Big Ten is one of the toughest conferences,” Smith said. “It’s a lot more tough than the ACC.”
Some may disagree though, considering the last 10 NCAA champions have been ACC schools, and the Wolverines’ first two losses of the season were against ACC foes.
Regardless, some players do note a difference in the style of play between the two conferences.
“(The Big Ten has) a lot more body-to-body play,” Smith said. “It’s a lot different than who we have been playing.”
As a result, it could benefit Michigan because so many young players were able to get experience against one of the best teams in the Big Ten, let alone the country.
“When you have some younger players, they just don’t quite know what to expect against a team like Penn State,” said Pankratz. “Until you see it for yourself, you can see we were a little bit shell-shocked.”
Now that this shock has occurred, it’s time for the young Wolverines to regroup.
“We need to pick it up,” said junior forward Rachael Mack. “We need to step it up.”
Mack, who led the team in scoring the last two years, currently leads Michigan with 22 points, including 10 goals.
Mack has scored a point in eight straight games, including all 10 of her goals. If she continues at this pace, it won’t be a surprise if the Wolverines make another run at the Big Ten crown.
“We’ll be in the mix,” Pankratz said. “It’ll be fun to watch down the stretch.”