Wolverines show championship potential against the Spartans

Sunday, September 25, 2016 - 4:43pm

Michigan stayed in the Big Ten driver's seat with its third straight win Saturday.

Michigan stayed in the Big Ten driver's seat with its third straight win Saturday. Buy this photo
Sindu Kilaru/Daily

 

As the whistle blew for halftime, the Michigan women’s soccer team, which won its first two Big Ten games last weekend, walked to its bench with the score still stuck at zero.  Michigan coach Greg Ryan was visibly upset. His team looked nothing like the one that had won its last four games.

“I really got into them at halftime,” Ryan said. “I told them they’re better than that. And they responded really well.”

The Wolverines (3-0-0 Big Ten, 7-1-1 overall) came out for the second half looking like the same team they have been most of the season. By the final whistle, the scoreboard read 1-0 in favor of Michigan.

The Wolverines showed Michigan State why they are being touted as potential Big Ten champions by earning their third win, keeping their perfect conference record intact and increasing their overall win streak to five. And truth be told, the score-line flattered the Spartans.

At first it was a day where the ball just didn’t want to go in for Michigan, but by the end, the Wolverines proved their quality. 

They ended the day with 20 shots, forcing Michigan State goalkeeper Savanna Wojtanowski into seven saves. Michigan also had two further efforts cleared off the line, and one pushed onto the post by the Spartans’ stubborn defense.

With a few minutes left on the clock, redshirt junior forward Ani Sarkisian rose highest in the box to head home a cross from sophomore midfielder Reilly Martin. For all her good work that night, Wojtanowski stood helpless as she saw the ball hit the back of her net.

"I think Reilly and I are a good duo," Sarkisian said. "We both like to get the ball, turn and go after them. That's a team's worst nightmare when players take them on one on one and I think we did that really well."

The Wolverines boast an intimidating front line. Sarkisian sits on five goals this season, while Martin and sophomore midfielder Abby Kastroll have scored four each. It seems goals are flying in from everywhere as Michigan is scoring at a rate of 2.11 goals per game, second only to Minnesota’s 2.36 in the Big Ten.

“Their goalie made some great saves,” Ryan said. “On another day like this, we might have scored three or four. We just gotta keep doing what we’re doing.”

At the defensive end of the field, only Northwestern has more clean sheets per game than Michigan’s sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Jackson. She has conceded in just two out of the seven games she has played this season.

The statistical dominance is reflected in the Big Ten standings where the Wolverines are the only team with three wins and a perfect record. 

“This team is capable of beating every team on our schedule,” Ryan said. “So if we just roll up our sleeves, we can contend for the Big Ten championship.”

Michigan will host Rutgers on Thursday night in a top-of-the-table clash that could be a potential tipping point in the race for the Big Ten title.

The Scarlet Knights have had a season almost identical to Michigan. They would have matched the Wolverines’ record, but were held to a stalemate against Illinois the day after Michigan beat Michigan State.

However, a win for Rutgers would see them jump ahead of the Wolverines, while a win for Michigan would make the team an outright favorite for the Big Ten championship.

“The way we’ve always worked is that we’re totally focused on the next game,” Ryan said. “We want to contend for the championship, and to do that, we’re probably gonna have to win the next game.”

With Michigan’s current form, playing the Wolverines is a daunting prospect for anyone. Although still early in the season, the Wolverines have effectively thrown down the gauntlet for every team in the Big Ten this season.