In a weekend sandwiched between four games against top-10 teams, the No. 15 Michigan women’s field hockey needed to build confidence, gain momentum and win some games, especially with the rigors of conference play looming just around the corner.
And the Wolverines did just that.
With a 5-0 blanking of Vermont on Saturday and a 3-2 victory over No. 16 Louisville the previous night, Michigan (4-4) pulled itself up from the dregs of a sub-.500 start, led by senior Lucia Belassi’s five points (two goals and three assists).
Belassi came out of the gates swinging Friday night, netting two goals in the game’s first stanza to give the Wolverines a 2-0 lead over the Cardinals (3-4).
Just two minutes into the game, Belassi took advantage of Michigan’s first penalty corner and snuck it behind goalkeeper Marie-Claire Heller. The goal marked the first time that the Wolverines notched the first point in any match this season.
“(Michigan) coach Nancy Cox and I have been working on my shot,” said Belassi, who had a hand in every point scored against Louisville (two goals and an assist). “I tend to pass a lot to get assists. She told me that if I’m in the zone, I should just take the shot, and it worked for me this weekend.”
Belassi’s newfound aggressiveness worked for her again late in the first period when she fielded a pass from sophomore Paige Laytos at the top of the circle and fired it past Heller for her second consecutive goal.
Michigan held off the Cardinals fierce comeback attempt long enough to record its second victory over a ranked opponent in as many weekends.
And according to Cox, this could be the most important non-conference win of the year for the Wolverines.
“It was just a huge win for us,” Cox said. “Louisville’s in our region, so if we don’t go out and win the Big Ten championship, the selection committee will look at games like this when they’re giving out at-large bids.”
Michigan continued its weekend dominance against Vermont on Saturday, posting five goals from five different players while shutting out the Catamounts.
Freshman Meredith Way reaped the benefits of the Wolverines’ scoring party, recording her first collegiate goal at the 13:38 mark of the first half.
While Michigan struggled to cap off scoring opportunities in prior games, that was not the case this weekend.
“We had great distribution of the ball,” Cox said. “Our forward line and our midline had great productivity, so we weren’t relying on Belassi and (fifth-year senior Kristen) Tiner. Our productivity is really progressing.”
Added Belassi of Michigan’s improved offensive output: “It’s just what we needed. This weekend was a huge confidence booster for us, especially after not being able to finish the last few weekends.”
That added confidence will come in handy next weekend as the Wolverines continue their brutal schedule with home games against fifth-ranked Iowa and seventh-ranked Penn State in the first weekend of conference play.