Coming off a tough 4-3 loss against Penn State last week, the No. 17 Michigan field hockey team needed a game to settle in before its first Big Ten game — a game to prepare the young players for the rest of the season to come.
Friday’s affair against Pacific was the solution to the Wolverines’ problems.
In a 7-1 throttling, Michigan (0-1 Big Ten, 7-4 overall) was able to get 17 different players in the game, including eight first-year players and two second-year players.
“A game like this is good for the younger players to get some experience,” said Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz. “We’ve got some significant injuries right now and to rest those players is going to be super helpful.”
The underclassmen got into the action early, too, as sophomore midfielder Axelle Wouters scored her fourth goal of the season to get the Wolverines on the board first.
The early lead was a forgotten sight for Michigan, who fell behind Penn State, 3-0, last Sunday.
“The Penn State match was going to be difficult,” said freshman backline defender Aisling Naughton. “We went back to basics (today).”
For her fourth goal of the season, Naughton simply took a pass in the front of the net from junior forward Michelle Roberts and pushed it into the low right corner of the net at the 17:29 mark of the first half.
After two more first-half goals, including the latter which was assisted by freshman midfielder Taryn Mark, the Wolverines had a comfortable 4-1 lead heading into the half.
“We stayed focused with what we had to do and played as the game went on, especially with so many freshman in the game,” said Pankratz. “They’re great players, that’s why they’re here.”
Scoring by freshman players didn’t stop at halftime, Naughton added her fifth goal of the season and second of the game at the 47:08 mark.
“As a freshman, you’re at another level and adjustment period,” said Pankratz. “It takes them a little bit to get to the speed of the play. The more they play, the more confident they get.”
It seemed in this game that Mark and freshman back line defender Jaime Dean gained such confidence.
Dean scored her first career goal at the 52:14 mark to make the score 6-1 off of the second assist by Mark of the match. Though Dean is a back line defender, it was unsurprising for her to score given the talent and unselfish play that the Michigan players put on display on Friday.
“People have had to be flexible and play different positions and it’s been working out well,” said Pankratz. “We’re getting more versatile everyday.”
Given such flexibility, Pankratz said she is comfortable letting her young team learn from game to game. And some of her older players, such as Roberts, are also learning.
“Everyone on our team is capable of scoring,” said Roberts. “We’re not just counting on a few people. Everyone is contributing really well.”
And for the young Wolverines, that diverse play will be needed for the rest of the Big Ten season and their fight to retain the conference title crown.
“We’ll be better for it down the stretch,” said Pankratz.f