The field hockey team traveled to the Midwest this week looking for top competition, and certainly found it.

Despite a strong first-half effort, the Bulldogs (1-3, 0-1 Ivy) began their four-day road trip with a 4-0 loss to Michigan State yesterday afternoon. Nine saves in the first half from goalkeeper Elizabeth Friedlander ’07 kept the game scoreless, but the Spartans (3-4) came out strong after halftime, scoring three goals in the first eight minutes of the second half. With 20 minutes to go, MSU forward Ashley Pernicano stuck one more away for a hat trick, closing the door on the Elis. The game was the first-ever meeting between Yale and Michigan State, a team that has made it to the NCAA finals twice in the last four seasons.

Team members said the game was closer than the scoreboard showed.

“We had a great first half, but the stats don’t really show it,” defender Jennifer Slough ’07 said. “At halftime, we really thought we were still in it, but they got a quick goal early in the second half and we sort of let them control the momentum.”

Spartan midfielder Floor Rijpma scored the first goal two minutes into the second half, and Pernicano added the final three tallies. Goalkeeper Charlotte Goins ’10 relieved Friedlander for the last 14 minutes and saved all three shots she faced.

The Spartans outshot the Elis 34-4 (16-1 in shots on goal) and had 19 corners to Yale’s two, statistics that captain and midfielder Heather Orrico ’07 said kept the team from competing.

“We set [the Spartans] up for success by allowing them to have so many corners and shots on us,” Orrico said.

The team’s one shot on goal came from midfielder Rachel Lentz ’07 in the 20th minute and was saved by MSU goalkeeper Stephanie Yuhasz.

Orrico identified the team’s overall defending as one area that could use improvement.

“We need to attack together and then we need to defend together,” she said. “We need to make sure it’s consistent.”

The Bulldogs will continue their Midwest trip in Evanston, Ill., where they are slated to play Northwestern on Saturday. The Wildcats (3-4) defeated Yale, 2-1, last year in the first-ever meeting between the two programs.

Yale will then face Stanford on Sunday in Evanston. The teams are playing against each other for the first time since 2002, a game that resulted in a 2-1 Eli victory.

The team remains confident about this weekend’s two matches despite the loss yesterday, Orrico said.

“We hung with [Michigan State], so we’re staying positive and we’re excited to win the next two games,” she said.

Slough described the Bulldogs’ games in the Heartland as a chance for the team to iron out any problems and face different competition.

“This weekend is a great opportunity to challenge ourselves and to see where our weaknesses are before we play the other Ivy League teams,” she said. “We can figure out what we need to work on so we can go 6-1 in Ivy League play.”

The team plans to scout the Northwestern-Stanford game tomorrow, Lentz said, but she emphasized that the most important thing was for the Elis to play their own game.

“You can’t control the other team,” Lentz said. “The only thing you can control is how your team shows up to play.”