The Michigan field hockey team played its longest game in almost two years at Ocker Field last Friday, and in the end, it was well worth it.
After nearly 90 minutes of play, the Wolverines scored the tie-breaking goal in double overtime to defeat No. 3 Iowa in their Big Ten opener, 3-2.
No. 12 Michigan (2-0 Big Ten, 6-4 overall) also extended its winning streak to four games on Sunday at home against No. 7 Penn State.
The Wolverines battled back from a two-point Iowa (0-1, 7-2) lead to tie the game and eventually win. The Hawkeyes built the early lead in the first half, scoring at the 11:06 mark and again just 46 seconds later. When it seemed time was running out for Michigan, sophomore Paige Laytos scored the team’s first goal with just 5:33 remaining in regulation. Four minutes later, with 1:24 left in the game, senior co-captain Lucia Belassi scored her sixth goal of the season and tied the game at two. After a scoreless first overtime, Freshman Vanessa Sekhon scored off an assist from freshman Meredith Way for the sudden-death victory.
With her game-tying goal against Iowa, Belassi extended the longest point-scoring streak of her career to five contests, earning five goals and five assists over the stretch. Following the game, Belassi said the win over the nation’s No. 3 program was a huge confidence booster for the entire team.
“I’m ecstatic,” Belassi said. “I’m so happy. This is an awesome win for us. When you’re down like we were, you just have to start over and play like it was 0-0.”
In addition to Friday’s double-overtime tally, Sekhon has scored three goals in her career, two of which have been game-winners.
“I looked to (Way) to pass me the ball,” Sekhon said of her overtime goal. “I looked around and shot the ball into the back corner of the net, and we kind of looked at each other and then she came up and grabbed me jumping up for joy and then I realized it was a goal.”
Michigan has become used to played games from behind. Its opponents scored the first goals in each of the its six games this season.
“Our team, unfortunately, performs better when we’re down one or two goals,” Michigan coach Nancy Cox said. “In overtime, it’s the team who has the best defensive breakdown skills and who has the best possession passing skills who wins.”
Cox attributed her team’s ability to play well and stay focused when it is behind to the motivation and aggression that comes with being considered the underdog.
“Our players like to hear how other people perceive them,” Cox said. “Having Iowa consistently talked about before Michigan and ranked above Michigan this season really was motivation for them to play aggressive and be resilient.”
Sunday, however, was a different story for the Wolverines. Way scored the first and only goal of the game early in the first half of their 1-0 shutout of Penn State (0-1, 5-4). The goal was the second of Way’s career.
Junior Paige Pickett earned three saves in her second shutout in three games. Michigan has now won eight of its last ten meetings with the Nittany Lions.
The Wolverines will have this week to practice and prepare for a pair of regional opponents this weekend. The Wolverines travel to Columbus, to face rival Ohio State this Friday at 4 p.m., before welcoming Miami (Ohio) to Ann Arbor on Sunday at 1 p.m.