Michigan fights to No. 1 spot in Big Ten after an overtime victory against Northwestern

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 - 7:26pm

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Allison Engkvist/Daily

After a grueling fight, during the final minute of regulation play, sophomore midfielder Raleigh Loughman fired a powerful corner kick into a crowded box and was able to connect with junior midfielder Nicki Hernandez. Hernandez executed a precise header that met the back of the net and earned the Michigan women’s soccer team a well-deserved first goal of the match.

What seemed like the winner was anything but as just a few seconds after the first goal, a handball inside the box off a corner kick resulted in a Northwestern penalty kick. Wildcats forward Mikayla Hampton scored from the spot tying up the game and sending it to overtime — the Wolverines’ fourth OT game of the season.

After beating Illinois 4-1 on Friday, Michigan (11-3-1 overall, 6-1-1 Big Ten) had the confidence to prevail against Northwestern (5-7-2, 3-3-1) in overtime after a grueling fight. Both teams came into Sunday’s matchup off of conference victories on Friday — Michigan defeated Illinois and Northwestern beat Michigan State—adding to the excitement of Sunday afternoon’s game.

The Wolverines endured two long shots in the first six minutes of the match and responded with force, keeping the ball out of the box and creating more opportunities during buildup play for shots against the Wildcats’ aggressive defensive line. Michigan’s top scorer, junior midfielder Sarah Stratigakis, was able beat her defender and take a shot late in the half that was eventually blocked, with another shot attempt in the final two minutes of the half.

Though Northwestern had greater ball possession during the first half, it appeared as if Michigan had the ball more due to its excellent ball control, communication in the midfield and ambitious shot attempts. Freshman Jayde Riviere was key to this midfield control by consistently outrunning her opponents and preventing the Wildcats from executing on opportunities inside the box.

 The Wolverines were especially hungry to beat Northwestern, who won its last two matchups. Adding to the stakes, Michigan hadn’t been victorious in Evanston since 2013 — where the conditions always prove difficult.

 “We were aware that with the location of their field that it was going to be windy,” said Michigan coach Jennifer Klein, “so we really wanted to keep the ball on the ground and connect passes to get up into the final third.”

At the start of the second half, the Wolverines’ offense continued to struggle to penetrate the Wildcats’ defense, while the defense was threatened by Northwestern’s shots on goal. Riverie’s two powerful, ambitious shots from 30 yards out showed that Michigan would be relentless until its shots connected with the back of the net.

“They (the team) felt like they created some good opportunities in the run of play and just were a bit unfortunate, so I think for them they wanted to win and so they went out and got it,” Klein said.

In overtime, Michigan’s effort was there and it outshot Northwestern 3-0. During the 8th minute of the first overtime half, sophomore midfielder Meredith Haakeson was unstoppable after a clean assist from freshman forward Hannah Blake, sending the ball into the right corner of the net and scoring a Michigan victory. Haakeson is now the Wolverines’ top scorer.

Klein led Michigan back into the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2016 last season, and another conference victory shows the team is continuing to grow this season under her guidance. The win marks the first time that Michigan has reached double-digit wins since 2016 when it made its last NCAA Tournament appearance.

“The changing of the culture and of the style of play has led to that,” Klein said. “But I think a big thing that we did from last year to this year that is putting us in a better position to get those results is our commitment to be disciplined defensively, and I think the girls have done a great job responding to that and being relentless to help keep the ball out of our net.”