Field Hockey: Ranked road test awaits accomplished Card squad

Oct. 28, 2011, 1:47 a.m.

A mere glance at the Stanford field hockey team’s record (13-2, 6-0 NorPac) shows just how much the squad has accomplished. Not only did the No. 9 Cardinal finish perfect in conference play — scoring 25 goals to a measly five against — but it also extended a year-long home winning streak that dates back to Oct. 8, 2010.

Field Hockey: Ranked road test awaits accomplished Card squad
Sophomore attacker Hope Burke, second on the squad in points with 22, and her teammates will need a strong showing to knock off No. 7 Michigan on Sunday. (SIMON WARBY/The Stanford Daily)

Yet this year’s team has not yet beaten a ranked opponent on the road. Sunday, against No. 7 Michigan (12-4, 4-1), the Cardinal looks to do just that as it heads three time zones away to finish the regular season.

This two-game road trip, which begins Friday against Michigan State, presents a chance for the team to continue its momentum going into next weekend’s conference championship. The No. 1 seed Cardinal can clinch an NCAA Tournament play-in game by winning the NorPac Championship, a title Stanford has won the past four seasons.

Opening in East Lansing, the Cardinal hopes to take advantage of a Michigan State team plagued with offensive struggles. The Spartans have been outscored 42-26 overall and failed to score in five of their ten losses. Both teams played Indiana, New Hampshire, California and Northeastern this season; Stanford went 3-1, while Michigan State dropped all four.

But Sunday in Ann Arbor, Mich. will be an entirely different story, as the Cardinal tries to earn its first-ever win against the Wolverines. The teams have not met since 2008, when Stanford fell 5-1.

After dropping its season opener against No. 2 North Carolina, Michigan bounced back in extraordinary fashion. The defense has held six teams scoreless, including Michigan State in a game last weekend during which the Spartans could not manage a shot. And the Wolverines’ dominance extends to the other side of the field; Michigan has outscored and outshot opponents 49-21 and 256-135, respectively.

“I think it’s important that we go to Michigan having a tough mentality,” said sophomore attacker Hope Burke. “Playing on someone else’s turf is always harder, but we are going to focus on matching their intensity and taking care of the ball when we have possession. Michigan’s backfield has yet to be tested, and I think that we are going to have success by pressuring their defense and creating turnovers.”

Since its 5-0 rout of UC-Davis last Friday, the Cardinal has relentlessly prepared for the upcoming road trip and will be ready to challenge Michigan.

“Going into the last two games our plan is to remain confident and know that we have been working just as hard — if not harder — than the teams we are going up against,” Burke said. “This week has been about fine-tuning the little aspects of our game that are going to make the difference at the end of the season. We’ve been working on passing, corners, and structure. We’ve put in all of the hard work over the past three months, now it’s time to put it all together.”

The importance of Sunday’s game extends into the postseason. If Stanford should lose in the NorPac Tournament, its hope for an automatic play-in game would be crushed. But after only losing two games to this point — both of which were away and against ranked teams — Stanford could secure one of eight at-large bids. A decisive win on the road against a No. 7 team would soundly speak for the Cardinal as a field hockey power deserving of a tournament spot.

“When it gets close to postseason, it’s not only about skill but it’s about willpower and which team wants to win more,” Burke said. “Our goal is to just continue playing our game and prep for next week’s NorPac Championship.”

The Cardinal takes on the Spartans today at 12 p.m. PST and the Wolverines on Sunday at 9 a.m. PST.

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