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Ezurike's offense leads Wolverines to undefeated road trip

Anna Schulte/Daily
Sophomore forward Nkem Ezurike scored all three of the Wolverines' goals this weekend. Buy this photo

By Steven Braid, Daily Sports Writer
Published October 2, 2011

Sophomore Nkem Ezurike spent all of practice last week hearing about the scoring prowess of Nebraska’s Morgan Marlborough and Iowa’s Cloe Lacasse — two of the Big Ten’s most lethal goal-scoring forwards.

During the Michigan women’s soccer team’s first Big Ten road trip, Ezurike outscored each of them and proved that she also belongs in that discussion.

Ezurike was the lone goal provider for the Wolverines (3-1-1 Big Ten, 8-3-2 overall) on the weekend, exploding for three total goals in two games. Her play helped Michigan beat Iowa 1-0 and Nebraska 2-1.

“It feels great to just be able to score and contribute to the team,” Ezurike said. “I’m just glad that I could help the team.”

In a 2-1 win against the Cornhuskers (2-3-0, 5-6-1) on Sunday, Michigan had its hands full on defense. The Wolverines were forced to double and triple-team Marlborough — she entered the weekend with 15 goals in 10 games — to try to limit her opportunities around the box.

Even though five different players were tasked with covering Marlborough throughout the match, Michigan coach Greg Ryan suggested that the team's player most responsible for containing the elite goal scorer played on the other side of the ball.

“(Ezurike) being able to score with very little help allowed us to keep extra players back to shut down (Marlborough),” Ryan said. “She did have a goal, but she only had three shots today. We were really able to limit her attacking play because (Ezurike) was able to put us on top.”

With her teammates keeping Marlborough in check, Ezurike made the most of her opportunities. In the 15th minute, she controlled a lob from redshirt junior forward Clare Stachel at the top of the box and sent a shot past Nebraska goalkeeper Emma Stevens.

Ezurike struck again in the second half. Seconds after halftime, she scored her seventh goal of the season, netting a lob from 35 yards out —which later proved to be the game-winner after Marlborough squeaked a shot past redshirt junior goalie Haley Kopmeyer in the 66th minute.

Michigan’s strategy against Nebraska on Sunday mirrored its game plan against Iowa (2-1-2, 10-1-2) on Friday night.

With almost all of the Wolverines playing back to try to defend Lacasse, Ezurike was left as the lone striker on many possessions. But even against undefeated Iowa, that was sufficient.

Benefitting from a Hawkeye defensive miscue, Ezurike provided Michigan with all the offense it needed when she tallied the lone goal of the game in the 54th minute.

“Recently, (Ezurike's) been getting frustrated just because she’s been getting some great chances but she’s just had a little bit of bad luck,” Ryan said. “But I told her to keep shooting because she’s going to continue to get great chances. This weekend, she took advantage of her chances and she scored three great goals.”

With Ezurike leading the way offensively, the Wolverine defense could focus on stopping Iowa’s aggressive play late.

The Hawkeyes had chances to score in the final minute, but Kopmeyer made a critical save to preserve the win. She ended the game with six saves to earn her sixth shutout of the season. She finished the weekend with 16 total saves.

After the Wolverines' tough home stand last weekend against Minnesota and Wisconsin, Ezurike understands the importance of these two road wins. In the heart of their Big Ten schedule, this road trip will serve as a big confidence boost for her squad.

“Being on the road is always tough,” Ezurike said. “Being able to get two wins on the road in the Big Ten, its just going to give our team a lot more confidence.”


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