Field Hockey Season Preview
We had a busy posting day on Sunday, so some of the Olympic sports coverage will be posted as diaries for the time being. Field hockey will be starting their season this Saturday in the ACC/BigTen challenge held in Iowa City, IA where they will face off with #2 Wake Forest and #4 North Carolina.
The field hockey team was created in 1973 and has been very competitive, especially in the last 12 years. Overall, the Michigan team has a record of 391-274-25 (.585) in 36 seasons of play. In the 28 seasons of BigTen play (1978-88, 1992-present), Michigan has only posted a 91-98-8 (.482) record. Most of that sub .500 record can be placed on our first stint in BigTen play where the team went 11-44-8.
The big turning point for Michigan was the hire of Marcia Pankratz in 1995. Pankratz, pictured on the right from mgoblue.com, was a former All BigTen field hockey player at Iowa and an Olympian in 1988 and 1996. She remained a member of the US National team right up until her head coaching debut with Michigan in the fall of 1996 – she had worked at field hockey power University of North Carolina as an assistant coach as well.
After a rocky 7-11 start in 1996, Pankratz would lead Michigan to a BigTen co-title in her second year on campus and by her fourth year, a 2nd place finish in the NCAA tournament. That NCAA appearance was the first of 7 in a row, including a national championship in 2001. Her tenure saw Michigan compile a 147-55 record.
Pankratz retired in 2004 in order to start a consulting firm for students being recruited to play college athletics and handed the reigns of the program over to Nancy Cox. Cox continued the winning tradition at Michigan, compiling a 51-36 record over the last four seasons, including two NCAA berths.
Last season, Cox announced her retirement from Michigan, opening the door for a familiar face to take over the head coaching position – Marcia Pankratz. Yes, Michigan's winningest coach has returned for the 2009 campaign after a four year absence.
The 2008 season was a down year for the field hockey team. The 8-12 record was the first losing record since Coach Pankratz took over in 1996. Michigan finished 3-3 in the BigTen Conference, good for 5th out of 7. They would also tie for 5th place in the BigTen Tournament.
Michigan was lead by then-sophomore Meredith Way (pictured below). Way tied for 9th in the BigTen last year with 29 points on 12 goals and 5 assists. Setting up Way was Sarah Wilhite, who has since graduated. Wilhite lead the BigTen last year with 16 assists. Wilhite would finish the year tied for 11th in the BigTen with 28 points.
Despite the sub-.500 record, Michigan finished with the #27 RPI out of 78 teams ranked. Eleven of their 20 games were against ranked teams, including seven against top 10 opponents. To put Michigan's scheduling into perspective, in the first two weeks of the season (four games), they faced off with the #1, 2, and 3 teams in the nation. You've got to admire the tough scheduling.
Three senior players were chosen to captain to this year's field hockey team. Midfielder/Forward Kelly Fitzpatrick will be making her fourth year as a regular starter. Fitzpatrick has started 48 of the 58 games she has appeared in, netting 24 goals and 3 assists. While her sophomore season was her most productive point totaling season (10 goals, 1 assist), her junior season was still very productive with 8 goals and 1 assist.
Jenner Johnson is the defensive captain for the Wolverines. As a back, she doesn't total many statistics, she netted one goal as a freshman in limited time, but Johnson has been a solid contributor on defense. She started 19 of the 20 games last year, including the 5 games Michigan shut out their opponents.
Paige Laytos is third captain. Laytos is a midfielder/forward who started every game as a freshman and sophomore. Laytos would red shirt last year, breaking her streak of 43 straight games started. She did make it into 3 games last year, including two starts, but she would only gain one assist before ending her season. Despite missing the year, she has accumulated an extensive resume at Michigan including All BigTen second team as a freshman, All BigTen Academic team, All BigTen first team, and NFHCA (coaches poll) All American third team as a sophomore.
All three captains and junior forward Alex Zeringue represented the Midwest this summer at the US Field Hockey National Championships. The Midwest squad would finish 4th out of 6th, but it is still encouraging the number of Wolverines picked to the squad.
Other Top Returners
Michigan might have lost Wilhite, but they do return many of their starters. Alicia Mayer returns the second highest point total on the team behind Meredith Way. Mayer started all 20 games last season and netted 6 goals and 3 assists.
Heather Wiley also started all 20 games as a forward last season. The fifth year senior will be looking to boost her assist total from last year (8) as well as gain her first goal as a starter (she had two as a reserve as a red shirt sophomore in 2007).
Other returning starters include goal keeper Paige Pickett (pictured to right), back Hannah Johnson, and red shirt sophomore Katie Adams. Adams started all 20 games last year, but played a little bit of forward, a little bit of midfielder, and a little bit of back.
With the transition at head coach, I could see Michigan struggling a little bit to start the year, especially facing off in the ACC/BigTen Challenge next weekend. Michigan starts with Wake Forest, who finished as the #2 team in last year's poll and then plays North Carolina who ended #7. That said, Michigan is ranked #19 in the preseason coaches poll.
BigTen play will be tough pickings. Iowa will be attempting to win the conference crown for the fourth straight year. They did lose 8 seniors from last year's Final Four squad that ended the season with a #6 ranking. Michigan State finished the year at #10 and returns their two All Americans Rijpma (first team) and Deacon (second team). Penn State finished the year ranked #11, but lost it's top four stars. Ohio State also finished last year ranked, and they didn't lose too much, so should be in contention as well. Each of those teams are currently ranked ahead of Michigan.
All-in-all, Michigan will play 11 of the 20 teams ranked to end last season, plus two who received votes. That's 12 games of the 20 scheduled. To make it worse, only 6 games are at home. Field hockey generally sets up several teams at one school over a weekend. Michigan hosts two weekends in September, a mid-week game against Kent State in October, and the last game of the season against Indiana.