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Non-Rev Notebook: Michigan’s fall teams approaching the postseason

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It’s stretch run time for field hockey, soccer, cross country and others.

COLLEGE SOCCER: SEP 17 Michigan at Maryland
Marc Ybarra and the Michigan men’s soccer team are fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When I last checked in with Michigan’s non-revenue fall teams, many of them were in full swing and gearing up for the stretch run in a few weeks. Now it’s arrived.

The Wolverines’ field hockey team has three games before the start of the Big Ten Tournament. Men’s and women’s soccer have two. There’s one cross country meet left before the conference championship.

With the stage set, let’s get into it. Here’s what you need to know about Michigan’s teams at this point in the season and what’s coming up next.

(As a reminder, many of the games mentioned in this article are on BTN+, an online subscription-based service offered by the Big Ten Network that streams non-televised Big Ten athletic events. A conference-wide pass costs $120 per year ($15 per month), but if you’re only interested in Michigan events, you can get a school-specific pass for $80 annually or $10 monthly.)

Field hockey (12-1, 4-1 Big Ten)

The Wolverines have spent most of the season affirming their status as national title contenders, if not outright favorites, and came out of a jam-packed last two weeks with that status very much intact. It certainly was grueling, though.

On Oct. 8, Michigan welcomed No. 8 Northwestern to town. The Wolverines scored early, gave up a fourth-quarter goal and went to overtime, where Anouk Veen’s shot off a penalty corner gave Michigan a 2-1 victory. Almost the same scenario played out two days later against then-No. 3 Louisville. The Wolverines scored first, surrendered a goal 30 minutes later and won it on Halle O’Neill’s corner direct shot with three minutes left in regulation.

That set up a battle of unbeatens at Iowa on Oct. 15. It lived up to its billing. No. 1 Iowa scored with 2:46 left in the game to send it to overtime, and after a tense two overtime periods in which the Hawkeyes had a golden chance to win on a penalty stroke, they ultimately did win it in a stroke-off (the equivalent of a penalty shootout in soccer, for those of you not as familiar with field hockey).

Michigan remained on the road last Sunday at Indiana, and it seemed at first as if the physical challenge of the last 80 minutes, accompanied with the emotional comedown from the Wolverines’ first loss, would cost them. They fell into a 2-0 first-quarter hole, unexpected against a mediocre Hoosier team.

But Michigan regrouped, scoring twice in a two-minute span and three more times after halftime to win, 5-3, in an important bounce-back effort. It was the Wolverines’ highest-scoring game in six games, and it came at the right time. They couldn’t afford an extended slide with top more Top-10 matchups coming up.

Player to watch: Kathryn Peterson, a senior midfielder from San Diego and third-team All-American a season ago. Peterson was quiet on the goal-scoring front before Michigan’s last four games, but she scored the opening tally against Northwestern, assisted against Louisville and scored the first goal against Iowa as well. Against Indiana, Peterson had a goal and two assists. With nine points over the last two weeks, Peterson’s up to second on the team in scoring, and the Wolverines will need her playmaking in full force if they want to make their dreams this season a reality.

What’s next: Rutgers, now ranked No. 3, comes to Ann Arbor on Friday (4:30 p.m., BTN+), followed by Senior Day on Sunday against No. 8 Maryland (1:00 p.m., BTN+). It won’t be Michigan’s final game at home, as it will host NCAA Tournament first and second-round games and Ocker Field is already scheduled to host the semifinals and finals. But it will be a chance for fans to honor seniors Peterson, Anna Spieker, Katie Anderson, Sofia Southam, Tina D’Anjolell, fifth-year seniors O’Neill and Emma Tamer and graduate student Kate Burney.

The Wolverines’ final regular-season game is at Penn State on Oct. 29 (6 p.m., BTN+) before the Big Ten Tournament in Piscataway from Nov. 4-7. Considering the loss to Iowa, the No. 1 seed in the tournament is probably out of the question. But a win over the Scarlet Knights on Friday would probably lock up the No. 2 seed and set up a potential championship rematch with the Hawkeyes.

2020 NCAA Division I Women’s Field Hockey Championship
Kathryn Peterson
Photo by Grant Halverson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Men’s soccer (6-5-3, 3-2-1 Big Ten)

Buckle up. With just two regular season contests left, the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament hopes are as bubbly as ever.

Let’s look at how we got here first. Michigan tied Michigan State, 2-2, at home Oct. 5. Four days later, the Wolverines had an opportunity on the road against Penn State, the team atop the Big Ten standings, but the Nittany Lions scored 46 seconds after a Michigan red card in the second half and came away with a 2-1 win.

This made beating Wisconsin on Oct. 15 almost a necessity, and thanks to Brennan Callow’s 68th-minute goal, Michigan did just that. The Wolverines, who hadn’t scored against the Badgers in five games, didn’t even allow a shot on goal. It wasn’t a breakaway stretch of Big Ten play, but Michigan at least maintained with a 1-1-1 record.

Next came an 0-0 road draw at Akron, a traditional college soccer powerhouse, on Monday. Owen Finnerty followed up Hayden Evans’ shutout against Wisconsin — the Wolverines’ first of the season — with one of his own. While it doesn’t count towards the Big Ten standings, it’s a solid result for Michigan in helping the all-important RPI, which we’ll get to in a second.

Players to watch: With defender Jackson Ragen, Michigan’s leading goalscorer last season, off playing professionally, the Wolverines needed some height on the back line and on set pieces. Enter Callow, who at 6-foot-6 is actually an inch taller than Ragen. Callow’s size enabled both of his last two goals. Against Michigan State, he tied the game at 2-2 in the 82nd minute by heading it directly into goal off an Umar Farouk Osman delivery, while against Wisconsin, he instead headed it straight down to Declan Gaffney and finished from point-blank range.

Callow didn’t really play much at the start of the season. But he started and played all 93 minutes against Indiana Oct. 1 and hasn’t left the pitch since. His emergence has been critical for a Wolverine team that’s struggled lately to generate chances from open play — not since Sept. 26 against Northwestern (five games!) have the Wolverines scored a goal not from a set piece or throw-in, actually.

What’s next: Michigan hosts Rutgers on Friday (7 p.m., BTN+) for Senior Day, where Austin Swiech, Cameron Martin, C.Y. Cheng, Declan Gaffney, Derick Broche, Joel Harrison, Kevin Buca, Marc Ybarra, Mohamed Zakyi and Umar Farouk Osman will be honored. Then the Wolverines finish out the regular season at Ohio State next Tuesday (6 p.m., BTN).

The 48-team NCAA Tournament consists of 23 teams with automatic bids through conference championships and 25 at-large berths. These berths are determined through RPI, essentially the way Pairwise works in hockey. Currently, the Wolverines sit 34th in RPI. Over the last three full NCAA Tournaments, the lowest-ranked at-large team ranked 45th, 38th, 35th in RPI, meaning Michigan sits pretty much right at or just above the cut-off point.

Both of the Wolverines’ final two regular season games are very winnable. They’re tied for fourth in the Big Ten standings, while Rutgers sits in seventh and Ohio State, winless on the year, is in last place. If they take care of business, they can lock down a first-round home game at the Big Ten Tournament, which goes Nov. 7-14 on campus sites. Play well there and their chances to lock down a bid seem solid, but it will be close.

Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal
Brennan Callow
Jeff Lange / USA TODAY NETWORK

Women’s soccer (10-3-3, 4-2-2 Big Ten)

The Big Ten championship race is pretty much over at this point in the season. Rutgers, which has won all eight of its conference games, is six points ahead of second-place Purdue and 10 ahead of third-place Michigan.

The Wolverines got their chance to take on the Scarlet Knights Oct. 6 in Piscataway. The first half, a 1-1 game, was close, but Rutgers poured it on late with three second-half goals and heavily outshot Michigan. But the Wolverines bounced back with wins in their next two games, 3-2 at Nebraska and 1-0 over Michigan State, before a 2-1 loss at Ohio State last Sunday marked by a controversial Buckeye penalty kick in the 85th minute.

Michigan received 18 votes in the most recent United Soccer Coaches poll, which would have placed it 36th in the nation if the poll carried out. With an RPI ranking of 20, the Wolverines are basically guaranteed an NCAA Tournament bid (the tournament field is 64 teams), but that doesn’t take away the need for a strong finish to the regular season and Big Ten Tournament.

Players to watch: The Wolverines’ offense, which ranks 13th in the nation in shots per game at 19.69, has been marked this season by its balance. Raleigh Loughman, Nicki Hernandez, Sammi Woods, Danielle Wolfe and Hannah Blake have all found the net at least three times this season, led by Loughman and Hernandez with three.

What’s next: Michigan has one ranked win this season, a 2-1 win at current No. 18 Purdue on Sept. 30. The Wolverines will get a chance for another when they host No. 23 Penn State on Thursday (7 p.m., FS1). The Nittany Lions, a perennial power, have been middling in Big Ten play this season, but have pulled it together as of late with three straight wins. Then Michigan finishes off its regular season at home on Sunday against last-place Maryland (12 p.m., BTN+).

The Wolverines control their own destiny in the race for a top-4 seed and a home-site first-round game in the Big Ten Tournament, which begins on Oct. 31 with semifinals on Nov. 4 and the championship game on Nov. 7. It’s not just about getting a home game, but if they seal the third seed, they would crucially avoid Rutgers until the final and get a semifinal match presumably against Purdue, who they’ve already beaten in West Lafayette this season.

Syndication: Journal-Courier
Skylar Anderson
Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

Volleyball (12-6, 5-4 Big Ten)

When we last checked in with Mark Rosen’s young team, they had just begun Big Ten play and were looking for a big win after a winning start to the season. They had come oh-so-close at Minnesota in September, losing in five sets.

On Oct. 8, the Wolverines got a second crack against the No. 8 Golden Gophers and won, 3-2. Even more impressive, Michigan won the first set 25-13 and took the fourth set 25-14 on the brink of defeat. The Wolverines had two more chances against ranked teams over the last two weeks and were swept by No. 7 Ohio State and No. 3 Wisconsin, but won a three-set sweep of their own against Maryland at home during that span.

Wednesday night, Michigan went to Bloomington and swept Indiana, further asserting that the Wolverines are some degree above the bottom end of the Big Ten. The question still remains if they can break into the top.

Player to watch: Sophomore outside hitter Jess Mruzik was the 2019 National Gatorade Player of the Year and a USA Today All-American playing at Farmington Hills Mercy High School. So far, Mruzik has lived up to all of her billing and even more so of late. She led the Wolverines in kills in five straight games, that streak only being broken by Wednesday night’s game at Indiana. For the season, she’s averaging 3.53 kills per set and has been in double digits in 10 of her last 11 games, including six straight.

What’s next: The battle for seventh-best team in the Big Ten, behind the conference’s six Top 15 teams (Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin) appears down to two teams: Michigan and Illinois. They’ll face head-on Saturday in Champaign (3 p.m. CT, BTN+). Next Friday brings a second chance against Ohio State (7 p.m., BTN+, Crisler Center), followed by a Halloween Eve matchup against Iowa (7 p.m., BTN+, Cliff Keen Arena). Michigan then will take on Penn State twice, with a game at Maryland sandwiched in between.

The Big Ten’s a very stratified conference, and the Wolverines are looking to break into that upper tier. Going 4-2 over their next six games would be a good place to start.

Syndication: Lansing State Journal
Jess Mruzik
Nick King/Lansing State Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Cross country

Both men’s and women’s teams were at national meets on Oct. 15; the men in Wisconsin for the Nuttycombe Invite and the women at the Penn State National Open.

After a first-place finish at the Greater Louisville Open, the No. 9 Michigan women made it two straight wins in State College. It wasn’t all that close, either, as the Wolverines finished with just 33 points to beat Georgia Tech by 49. Erika VanderLende, Katelynne Hart and Kayla Windemuller ran up top and finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively, all breaking 21 minutes for the six-kilometer race.

The Wolverine men used their depth, putting six runners in the top 90, to outperform their seed and take eighth place in Madison. Tom Dodd led the way with a 35th-place finish, while Michigan’s other four scorers were all within 10 seconds of each other. Following the meet, the Wolverines held steady at No. 15 in the USTFCCCA national rankings.

Athlete to watch: Dodd, a senior from Birmingham, England, highlighted his intersquad cross country debut for the Wolverines by running a 23:54 at the Nuttycombe Invite. Dodd was an Indoor First-Team All-American in the mile last spring and made it to the NCAA Championships in the 1500 meters, and it will be key for Michigan if he shows the same form on grass.

What’s next: Both Wolverine teams will run Friday afternoon at Hudson Mills Metropark in Dexter for the EMU Fall Classic, with the men (4 p.m.) and women (4:30 p.m.) both running 5Ks. It’s unlikely that Michigan will put its top runners out there, though, instead getting them ready for the Big Ten Championships in State College on Oct. 29 (men 10:45 a.m., women 11:45 a.m., both races on BTN+).

Swimming and diving

Michigan’s swimmers and divers got their seasons going Oct. 8-9 with some athletes competing at the SMU Classic and others swimming at home in a dual meet against Oakland. Both men and women finished first out of six teams in Dallas, and both teams beat the Golden Grizzlies comfortably as well.

The women are ranked fourth nationally in the preseason CSCAA poll, while the women are ranked sixth.

Athletes to watch: Michigan’s women had five event-winners in Dallas. Casey Chung, Letitia Sim, Maggie MacNeil and Lindsay Flynn won the 200-yard medley relay, while Sim, Chung, Ackerman and MacNeil won the 200 breaststroke, 200 backstroke, B final and 100 freestyle, respectively. On the men’s side, Wyatt Davis, Will Chan, Gal Groumi and Cam Peel combined to win the 200 medley to start the meet, and Jake Mitchell won the 500 freestyle by nearly two seconds.

What’s next: Both Michigan teams will be back in the pool Nov. 5 at a triangular hosted by Purdue featuring Missouri as well.

Swimming - Olympics: Day 3
Maggie MacNeil
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Golf

The Michigan women’s golf team finished seventh out of 19 teams at the Ruth’s Chris Tar Heel Invitational in North Carolina Oct. 15-17. In a field featuring 12 teams ranked in the nation’s top 50, the Wolverines shot a three-day 866 despite a third-round 296 that dropped them from fourth place to seventh, 19 strokes behind champion Wake Forest.

Athlete to watch: Junior Hailey Borja paced the Wolverines in Chapel Hill with her best tournament as a collegiate golfer. Borja went 71-68-71 for a 210, finishing six strokes under par and placing in a tie for third place individually, taking advantage of soft greens with strong ball striking. This season, Borja’s been the top Wolverine or tied in two of three meets, including the Windy City Invitational in Chicago in early October.

What’s next: The Wolverines’ men’s team hasn’t played since Oct. 4 and won’t take the course next until Oct. 29-31 at the White Sands Bahamas Invitational, their final fall competition. The women have one tournament left this fall, the Landfall Tradition in Wilmington, N.C. that same weekend.

Tennis

The fall tennis season is a solely individual affair, with no team scores being counted. Michigan sent individuals on both the men’s and women’s side to the ITA All-American Championships earlier this month. Jacob Bickersteth advanced the farthest among the Wolverine men, making it to the third round of the singles main draw, while Gavin Young reached the third round of the qualifying singles. Kari Miller, the lone Wolverine woman competing, went 1-1 in singles qualifying play before the women’s event was cancelled due to inclement weather.

What’s next: Both teams are in action this weekend, with the women at the ITA Super Regionals in Columbus and then off to the South Carolina Invite the weekend after that. The men are at the ITA Midwest Regional Championship in East Lansing Oct. 21-25.