By Alejandro Zúñiga, Daily Sports Writer
Published October 27, 2012
Entering its final regular-season game against Illinois, the No. 24 Michigan women’s soccer team knew it needed a victory to earn the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. But despite holding a two-goal lead with under 30 minutes to play, the Wolverines (7-2-2 Big Ten, 13-4-2 overall) surrendered three consecutive tallies and lost, 3-2, in overtime.
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Illinois scored the game-winner in the fourth minute of the extra period. When Nicole Breece was brought down inside the 18-yard box, the referee awarded the Illini a penalty kick. Midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo buried the set-piece with a rising shot that screamed just under the crossbar. Her second goal of the game caused the visitors’ bench to pour onto the field in pure elation while the dejected home side trudged off slowly.
The result dropped Michigan to third in the conference, while the Illini (6-4-1, 9-7-2) moved into a fourth-place tie. The Wolverines will face sixth-place Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament on Wednesday.
Michigan dominated the first 60 minutes of the match en route to a 2-0 lead. Midway through the first half, the Wolverines struck first courtesy of junior midfielder Nkem Ezurike. When fellow junior Meghan Toohey sent a right-footed cross into the 18-yard box, goalkeeper Steph Panozzo stepped off her line to punch it away. She collided with a teammate and fell to the ground, unable to control the ball. The cross fell right to Ezurike, who whiffed on a first-time effort on the empty net but had enough time to poke a second effort into the goal.
The Wolverines added to their lead just three minutes into the second half. In the 48th minute, freshman midfielder Corinne Harris passed into open space on the left wing. Junior midfielder Tori McCombs dribbled toward the edge of the 18-yard box and lifted a shot at goal from the difficult angle. The ball hit the far post and bounced towards the near post, but crossed the back line before a defender could clear it away. It was McCombs’ second tally of the season and gave the Wolverines a two-goal advantage.
“I was hoping it would either go in or someone would find a head on it,” McCombs said.
Illinois got on the board in the 62nd minute thanks to an impressive individual play by DiBernardo. The junior pressured the Wolverine back line into an errant pass and managed to corral the loose ball. Turning toward the Michigan goal, DiBernardo curled a shot around a defender towards net. Senior goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer couldn’t quite reach the chest-high effort, and it rattled off the far post into the net.
The Illini equalized 20 minutes later, taking advantage of a scrum inside the 18-yard box. After a cross, several Michigan defenders failed to clear the danger. The ball came to DiBernardo, who tapped it to Niki Read. The forward fired a short-range effort past Kopmeyer to pull Illinois even.
With just two minutes left in regulation, the Wolverines almost scored a potential game-winner. Toohey received a pass 12 yards from the Illini net and managed a shot on target despite tight coverage. The ball rattled off the post and back at Toohey, who launched a second attempt that was saved by Panozzo.
Moments later, the match went into overtime, where DiBernardo gave Illinois the victory.
After the loss, Michigan coach Greg Ryan expressed his disappointment and frustration.
“They scored and we didn’t,” he said. “We had enough chances to put this game away. We missed our chances.”