Ask those who follow the Michigan field hockey team about last season, and you’ll likely hear a common word — uneven.
By all accounts, Team 49 came into the season as one of the most talented squads in program history. After finishing just shy of a title in the spring, the Wolverines started the fall off on a hot streak, quickly grabbing the top spot in the rankings and looking unbeatable in their first 12 games.
After a loss to then-No. 2 Iowa however, things never really clicked back into place, and Michigan finished its final nine games of the season with a 5-4 record, good for fourth in the Big Ten regular season standings, a Big Ten Tournament final loss, and ultimately an unceremonious second round exit from the NCAAs.
With almost the entire roster returning from last year — with some notable exceptions — Team 50 looks to rectify last year’s mistakes and get back to the peak of the national landscape.
In contrast to the 2020-21 season, Michigan’s strength on the pitch came from an aggressive front line that finished top 10 in both scoring average and scoring margin.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, the head of that lethal attack — Sofia Southam, who finished second in the country in goals per game — transferred out of the program this spring. In addition, two of Michigan’s team anchors in midfielder Halle O’Neill and defender Emma Tamer graduated.
That leaves three sizable gaps in the Wolverines’ starting 11 that need to be filled. The good news for Michigan is not only will the rest of the lineup be relatively stable, but multiple bench players from last season look primed to fill the gaps.
Particularly of note will be Abby Tamer, Lora Clarke and Sarah Pyrtek, who all played more than 19 games last season and received significant playing time despite their non-starter status.
While Southam’s departure is a significant blow — accounting for almost 30% of the Wolverines’ scoring last season alone — Michigan returns all but a morsel of the remainder and retains the strong goalkeeping of fifth-year Anna Speiker. She finished in the top 10 of goalkeepers all three seasons as a starter, including back-to-back top-five finishes.
In the final RPI rankings of last season, the Wolverines finished third in the nation despite the way the ended the season. It’s unlikely, therefore, they’ll begin this season anywhere but the top five of the polls.
The question is if they can remain there throughout the year. As has become tradition, Michigan will start the season against powerhouse North Carolina, who despite having a disappointing season as a whole last year brings back the best player in the country Erin Matson. The out-of-conference schedule also includes a road trip to perennial contenders Louisville.
The real danger for the Wolverines lies in the conference schedule. Instead of telling you, let me just show you the final RPI rankings of last season:
For reference, there are only nine field hockey teams in the conference.
To say the Big Ten slate is a battle this season would be like calling Mount Everest a relaxing hike. Of the five opponents above, Michigan travels to three (Rutgers, Northwestern, Maryland) and faces Iowa twice — once at home, once on neutral ground in Evanston.
Michigan faces the daunting task of getting through the conference gauntlet unscathed. If it can, the road to a national championship ends in Storrs, Connecticut.
Schedule (times ET)
- August 26 (2:30 p.m.) vs. North Carolina (Winston-Salem, N.C.)
- August 28 (1:30 p.m.) vs. Wake Forest (Winston Salem, N.C.)
- September 4 (1 p.m.) vs. Central Michigan
- September 8 (6 p.m.) vs. Miami (OH)
- September 11 (Noon) at Louisville (Louisville, KY)
- September 16 (5 p.m.) vs. Penn State
- September 18 (2 p.m.) vs Cornell
- September 23 (6 p.m.) at Maryland (College Park, MD)
- September 25 (Noon) at Rutgers (Piscataway, N.J.)
- October 2 (1 p.m.) vs Ball State
- October 7 (5 p.m.) at Michigan State (East Lansing, MI)
- October 14 (6 p.m.) vs. Indiana
- October 16 (Noon) vs. Iowa
- October 21 (4 p.m.) at Northwestern (Evanston, IL)
- October 23 (1 p.m.) vs Iowa (Evanston, IL)
- October 28 (6 p.m.) vs Ohio State
- November 3-5: Big Ten Tournament (Columbus, OH)
- November 11-13: NCAA First and Second Rounds (Campus Sites)
- November 18-20: NCAA Final Four and Championship (Storrs, CT)