The Michigan women’s field hockey team has been itching to defeat No. 2 North Carolina since it’s last victory over them in 2002. Now the Wolverines are going to have to wait another year to get their chance.
But while dropping a game 5-0 is never an ideal way to kick off a season, Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz has no regrets about what she saw her team do this weekend.
After a massive defeat at the hands of the Tar Heels on Saturday afternoon, ninth-ranked Wolverines returned on Sunday humbled and ready to correct the previous day’s mistakes.
“Without question in my mind, (North Carolina) is the best team in the country,” Pankratz said. “That’s good for us. We don’t back away from challenge. It’s Michigan. We want to play against the best and be the best.”
Michigan’s game against the Tar Heels was characterized by an offense that couldn’t get close to the goal, and a defense that struggled to keep Carolina’s forwards away from the net.
After North Carolina’s fifth goal just seconds into the second half, the Wolverines were simply trying to avoid an even bigger shutout.
Facing a national field hockey powerhouse like the Tar Heels was never pegged as an easy task. This, in conjunction with “first game jitters,” Pankratz said, made the Wolverines look like a completely different team then the one that won the Big Ten Championship title last year.
But something clicked for Michigan in the 24-hour span between games, and Sunday proved to be a completely different story for the Wolverines. They garnered their first win against No. 11 Wake Forest since the start of the ACC/Big 10 Challenge nine years ago.
“I give the team an enormous amount of credit,” Pankratz said. “It’s not easy to come off a 5-0 loss and then come back and play strong, but we did. Good things happened, so I was proud of them for that.”
Although Michigan maintained possession of the ball for the majority of the first period, it struggled with capitalizing on its shot attempts. It wasn’t until sophomore Michelle Robert’s goal minutes into the second half that the game became a full-out battle for control of the field.
Wake Forest tied the game after scoring on one of its many penalty corner shots, but another goal by Michigan sophomore Kim Sheaffer with eight minutes left in play put the Wolverines in the lead for good.
The Demon Deacons are known for being a second-half team, and despite entering the second period scoreless, Pankratz knew Michigan’s opportunity would show itself eventually.
“(I told the team) to stay patient, stay after it,” Pankratz said. “Just keep doing things right and it will go in the net. It’s harder to get the offense refined and ready to go at the beginning.”
This weekend’s tournament marked the debut appearances of the Wolverines’ freshmen, and Pankratz is impressed by what she’s seen from her youngest players so far. Belgian star Aline Fobe saw her first action of the season this weekend, starting in and playing for the full duration of both games.
Michigan travels east next week for matchups against Temple and Maryland.
In the meantime, Pankratz plans to make the most out of what she’s seen this weekend and make as many adjustments as possible while it’s still early in the season.
While improving technique and correcting errors will help the Wolverines for the future, this weekend taught Michigan an even more valuable lesson that could only come with a major loss — how to move on from the past.
“We knew today was a big game like yesterday (against North Carolina) but we wanted to focus on today and forget about yesterday,” Scheaffer said. “We knew we had to come out hard and really strong and it was just a whole new day.”