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Michigan rides stifling defense to 3-0 victory over Indiana

By Alejandro Zuniga, Daily Sports Writer
Published September 16, 2012

If defense wins championships, the Michigan women’s soccer team might have plenty to look forward to this season.

After scoring twice in the first half, the Wolverines did not allow a single shot on goal in the final 45 minutes, cruising to a 3-0 victory over Indiana in their Big Ten opener at the U-M Soccer Complex on Saturday night.

While Michigan’s back line was virtually impenetrable, the Hoosiers had no answer for junior forward Nkem Ezurike. She missed an opportunity early in the game, but scored her first two goals of the season before the half ended.

In the 18th minute, Ezurike received a through ball near the edge of the penalty box. With no defenders around her, the forward had plenty of time to place a shot past Indiana goalkeeper Shannon Flower. That strike was all Michigan needed to win its conference opener and improve to 7-2-0 on the season.

But Ezurike was not finished. With 10 minutes remaining in the first half, junior defender Kayla Mannino fed Ezurike the ball at the top of the 18-yard box. The forward had her back facing the goal, a defender guarding her tightly on each side and no available passing lanes. So Ezurike spun towards the net, powered through the defender in her way, and fired a strike that doubled the Wolverine lead.

It was a remarkable individual display of ball control and strength, but Ezurike credited the team’s effort.

“We worked hard and played hard,” Ezurike said. “We need to keep doing that, and we’ll be successful.”

Michigan’s final goal was equally impressive. In the 60th minute, off a corner kick, freshman forward Corinne Harris lifted a centering pass to the near post. Junior defender Shelina Zadorsky flicked the ball out of the air with her left foot, deflecting it into the net before the Hoosier goalkeeper could react. It was Zadorsky’s first goal of the season, and sealed the win for Michigan.

Michigan coach Greg Ryan, who led the U.S. national team during the 2007 Women’s World Cup, always holds his players to a high standard. But even he said he was impressed with his team’s display on Saturday.

“Tonight was the most complete game we played all season,” Ryan said. “We had a great performance in all areas.”

Despite Michigan’s methodic attack, which led to 15 shots, three goals and many other scoring chances, the Wolverines’ defense has been the team’s strong suit this year. The back four earned their third straight shutout and sixth of the season. Unlike previous games, though, it didn’t require any heroics from fifth-year senior goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer. The Hoosiers were held to just three shots and mustered none in the second half. Kopmeyer finished the game without recording a save.

“We were outstanding on the back line,” Ryan said. “(Indiana) just couldn’t break them down.”

Michigan hasn’t surrendered a goal since Sept. 2 at Long Beach State. Through nine games, opponents have beaten Kopmeyer just four times.

The Wolverines will hit the road next weekend, playing at Minnesota on Friday and at Wisconsin on Sunday night.