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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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Young front line leads Michigan to 2-0 season-opening victory over Matadors

By Brad Whipple, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 22, 2014

Five minutes after the Michigan women’s soccer team scored their first goal this season, senior midfielder Jen Pace — the only captain who started — collapsed to the ground.

Pace attempted to head the ball to an outside Michigan forward, but instead collided with a Cal State Northridge player, and fell to the ground clutching her left ankle. She returned 30 minutes later, only to come off once more.

And the Wolverines showed they could weather the storm without their captain.

In the end, Pace’s injury was irrelevant to the game’s result as Michigan took down Cal State in a 2-0 shutout to open the season.

“Cal. State plays as good of a brand of soccer as anybody in the Big Ten,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “The fact that we were able to shut them out was huge. There were some defining moments tonight.”

With Pace likely out for the next game, that leaves Michigan without both of its captains, after senior defender Chloe Sosenko missed the Wolverines’ exhibition for undisclosed reasons.

“We’re hoping Chloe can return to play on Sunday,” Ryan said. “We’ll just have to see on Jen, because she turned her ankle — we gotta see how bad it is.”

Seven minutes into the game, freshman forward Ani Sarkisian launched a corner kick inside the penalty box, where it rebounded back to her. She then crossed the ball over to sophomore forward Madisson Lewis who finished a header into the upper right of the net, her first of the season.

“I’ve been working on getting on the end of crosses, and we all have this week leading up to the game,” Lewis said. “To put one in the back within the first seven minutes was a great feeling.”

Alongside Lewis and Sarkisian was sophomore forward Nicky Waldeck, completing the frontline’s power trio. Together, they brought tremendous speed and agility downfield, something Lewis said they’ve focused on during practice through sprint recovery workouts.

Cal State pushed forward following the goal, keeping the Wolverines on their toes and without a shot attempt for 22 minutes. But late in the second half, the Michigan attack truly rejuvenated itself.

The frontline changed into a new trio, consisting of junior forwards Lulu Haidar and Corinne Harris, who both guided freshman forward Taylor Timko — Timko converted from defender in the second half.

In the 79th minute, Haidar corner kicked to Harris — who tried to shoot from six yards out. Goalkeeper Jovani McCaskill prevented a goal with a diving block, but the effort was futile as Timko exploited the open net and put it past her with ease — her first career goal.

“You could see that we created some good chances — we were dangerous — and we don’t even know each other yet,” Ryan said. “The most encouraging thing for me is that they played well, but I know how much better they’re going to play as we continue to progress.”

Added Lewis: “We’re still trying to get used to each other. But showing from tonight, I think we did really well playing forward quickly and making those runs in.”

Early on, Cal State was barely able to break Michigan’s backline, despite Wolverine turnovers all around. Cal. State’s closest chance came when senior forward Brittanie Sakajian snuck past Michigan’s defense and slow rolled the ball toward sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Bucklin. Nearing the end of the game, Bucklin made another crucial diving save to maintain the shutout.

Bucklin saw 90 minutes of action, ending the night with five saves. With the help of her backline the Matadors didn’t take a shot until 23 minutes into the game, mostly forced out near midfield.

“We’re still learning what Shelina (Zadorsky) and Holly (Hein) knew,” Ryan said about the differences in the backline compared to last year. “But there’s so much pace that we can make a mistake and recover.”

The Wolverines picked up the win and showed signs of a team that meshes in all parts of the field. The backline was sound, the frontline showed some grit and the midfield did its due diligence in ball handling for key possessions.

So what happens to a ship without its captains? For Michigan, it looks like it can just sail on.