Sometimes sports teams just have a bad weekend. When that occurs against two national powers, including the defending national champions, it can be a rather rude awakening, as the Michigan field hockey team found out this past weekend.
The Wolverines opened their season by dropping both of their games in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Yesterday, Michigan squared off against defending national champion Wake Forest, falling 4-2 in a hard-fought battle. On Sunday, North Carolina put on an offensive show, shutting out the Wolverines while also scoring four goals of their own.
The opening loss hurt for more reasons than one. First of all, it snapped a 12-game home winning streak that the team held going back to last season. Secondly, The Tar Heels exploited Michigan’s defense, which is usually the Wolverines’ biggest strength.
The Tar Heels got started quickly, scoring their first goal three minutes and 25 seconds into game when junior Katy Potter tipped the ball over Michigan goalie Molly Maloney. Then, at the 13:13 mark in the first half, Michigan made a rather uncharacteristic blunder, letting the ball bounce around in its own defensive zone too long. North Carolina junior Kerry Falgowski slammed the ball into the net.
Michigan got its best chance of the half with 3:41 to play when a North Carolina mistake led to a breakaway, but that shot was put wide of the net, and the Wolverines did not get a better scoring chance the rest of the game. The Tar Heels added two second-half scores that were merely insurance goals.
Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz stated the Wolverines woes rather simply.
“They weren’t ready to play,” Pankratz said. “We just didn’t play well at all. We didn’t play with a lot of heart today, and I think we were afraid to lose, so we sat back and weren’t very aggressive and didn’t perform at the level we want to.”
Despite the mishaps that abundantly dotted Ocker Field on Sunday, the Wolverines did make a more concentrated effort yesterday and looked better for much of the game.
“It definitely was a whole different team (the second day),” senior forward April Fronzoni said. “We had a nice talk after the game yesterday and knew that we would never come out on our home turf and look like that ever again.”
Michigan started the game at a frenetic pace. In the first 10 minutes, the Wolverines had several good scoring chances, including a blistering shot from the back of the circle by Fronzoni that just missed, hitting the post with the force of a machine-gun bullet.
The hard work eventually paid off. Senior Kristi Gannon connected with freshman Jill Civic off a penalty corner and Civic tipped the ball over Wake Forest goalie Katie Ridd. That put the Wolverines up 1-0 with 2:37 left to play in the first half, topping off an excellent half.
“Definitely the first 35 minutes we came out and played the best hockey that we ever played,” Fronzoni said. “If we stick to that game plan that we played with the first half, no one can touch us.”
As positive as the first half was, the second half was equally bad. Michigan started the first few minutes out like it had just ended the first half, but a Kelley Dostal goal for the Deamon Deacons with 29:25 remaining took some of the jump out of the Wolverines’ step. After gaining momentum, Wake Forest went on to score three more goals (including two more from Dostal) in the next 20 minutes, leaving Michigan stupefied. Fronzoni did add a goal in the 61st minute, but it was too little, too late.
“We weren’t getting the bounces yesterday, and we got some today, but I hit the post … and then the (Wake Forest) goalie made an exceptional save. We have to finish on those if we want to be the top team in the country,” Fronzoni said.
Pankratz was not pleased with either performance, but did feel better about the game yesterday than the first game.
“We played much better (against Wake Forest),” Pankratz said. “I was very pleased with the first half. We did exactly what we wanted to do. So I was really happy with the effort and how we were playing tactically. We had about a 15-minute lapse in mentality where we did not follow the game plan in the second half, and you can’t do that against a great team like Wake or they’re going to score four times like they did.”