Last weekend, a different MSU field hockey team showed up to play at Ralph Young Field.
Instead of the usual team that failed to hold onto early leads and oft-suffered from defensive lapses, a team that found its offense early, closed out a close game and twice displayed mental toughness for 70 minutes showed up.
It took most of the season, but the field hockey team (7-7 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) finally showed consistency in two straight games — a 3-2 double overtime win over No. 18 Michigan (8-6, 1-2) and a dominant 8-0 shutout over Ball State (5-8 overall, 0-2 MAC).
After a slow start, the field hockey team has won four of its last five games, and reached .500 with Sunday’s win over Ball State. They now find themselves tied with No. 3 Penn State (10-2, 3-0) for the best Big Ten record.
It’s possible that their record doesn’t accurately reflect the talent-level of the team. It was apparent in several early-season losses that their own worst enemy was themselves.
That’s what junior midfielder Alli Helwig suggested after the win over Ball State. Helwig scored her first career goal in the shutout.
“We always knew that we should be .500 or above,” Helwig said. “We have the potential to win every game, but we have to show up for 70 minutes. I think this is the weekend that we first have showed up for both games, 70 minutes. I think this is a good spark for the rest of our season.”
Regardless of the reason for the slow start, the field hockey team seems to be learning from early season errors. They’re playing tougher, more controlled, and with more confidence compared to earlier in the season.
With a .500 record, members of the team are starting to see making the postseason tournament as an option.
“We finally won two games in a weekend, and we really needed to prove that to ourselves, to win two games in a weekend,” junior forward Allie Ahern said. “When it comes tournament time, we can win two games in a row. Now that we’re .500, we’re excited about it. We want our record to be better than it is, but it just shows us that we can win two games in a weekend and make it to the tournament.”
With four games left, it’s natural to begin to look forward to postseason. But there’s still one obstacle left — they will hit the road to face Penn State, whom they are tied with for the best Big Ten record, on Saturday.
For a rapidly-improving team, Saturday will be a major test. If they continue the momentum they showed last weekend, anything is possible.
“Beating Michigan really gave us confidence that we can beat anyone, because they’re a ranked team,” Ahern said. “We need to have an even better game than we had against Michigan because Penn State’s ranked No. 3. We have to play our best game to beat them, but I think we can.”