Penalties bring Michigan's season to heartbreaking end
Nine penalties had been taken, and nine penalties were scored. The game ended 2-2 in regular time, and one kick would decide what would happen next. Illinois State was up 5-4 in the penalty shootout, and Michigan sophomore midfielder Abby Kastroll stepped up to try and level it for the Wolverines.
Her shot — headed for the top-right corner of the goal — had the keeper beat. The ball crashed against the woodwork, though, knocking Michigan out of the NCAA tournament.
“Penalties are just penalties.” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “We’ve seen David Beckham miss them badly, send them 20 yards over the goal. I’m glad we drew and went out on penalties. We didn’t lose, but we just can’t go to the next round either.”
The Wolverines (6-3-2 Big Ten, 10-5-5 overall) started the game well against Illinois State’s (5-0-1 Missouri Valley, 14-5-3 overall) high-pressing tactics, and managed to win the ball back quickly in the midfield after losing it. This resulted in two opportunities for Michigan inside the first 20 minutes of the game.
The first followed a corner that the Redbirds failed to clear. The ball dropped for senior midfielder Jessica Heifetz, who sent the ball wide with the goal at her mercy.
The second was the result of some efficient play between senior forward Nicky Waldeck and sophomore forward Reilly Martin. Waldeck played the ball to the left for Martin, who beat two defenders down the wing before cutting into the box at the goal line and playing the ball back for Waldeck, who was waiting just outside the six-yard box. Waldeck sent her curling effort just past the far post.
“You get a certain number of chances in a game,” Ryan said. “And if you put those away, then you have a good game, and if you don’t, you leave an opening for the other team.”
With its first real bout of possession in the final third, Illinois State made the Wolverines pay. Midfielder Emily Dickman moved past three Michigan defenders before playing in midfielder Abby Basler inside the box. Basler passed to forward Lauren Koehl, who let the ball roll past her body before taking a touch to beat her defender and curl the ball into the roof of the net.
Michigan switched up its tactics in the second half, moving Martin further up the field as a second striker alongside Waldeck. Martin’s new position on the field increased her influence across the pitch, as she provided two assists, and brought the Wolverines back into the game.
The change had an almost immediate effect five minutes into the half. Martin won a free kick in the Redbird half and from the set piece floated the ball into the box, where freshman defender Jada Dayne headed it in to even the score, 1-1.
Michigan asserted control of the second half the same way it had in the first, but once again let its guard down and paid the price.
Halfway through the second half, Illinois State midfielder Kelli Zickert found herself with space in midfield. With time on the ball, she managed to play a perfect pass for Dickman, who was unmarked inside the box. Dickman made no mistake, as she buried the ball into the side netting at the far post.
“We gave them just two good chances.” Ryan said. “They had very few looks at goal, but I’m disappointed that we let them have two very good opportunities, and they took them.”
Having been pegged back once again, the Wolverines needed another goal to stay in the NCAA Tournament.
With 15 minutes left in the half, Michigan crossed the ball into the box, where Martin flicked it on to Waldeck. Waldeck took her chance this time around and headed it over the Illinois State keeper, tying the game once again.
“It’s always tough coming in from behind,” Martin said. “And we knew that set pieces were going to be a big part of this game, so it was good that it gave us a chance to stay in the tournament.”
Ryan was especially proud of Martin for her performance: “I thought she really stepped up today. She played all over the pitch. She scored her penalty. I can’t ask much more of her or of any of my players.”
Extra time proved to open up the game more, with both teams visibly fatigued. They gave up pressing and defended deep, leading to lots of chances on both ends.
Illinois State had two good chances but was denied both times by sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Jackson. One was a 30-yard shot by Dickman that looked destined for the top-left corner before Jackson dove to get a hand on it. The second was a header following a corner in the second half of extra time that Jackson was barely able to tip over the crossbar, and keep her team in the tie.
“Everyone fought back every time we went down,” Jackson said. “In overtime, we don’t get a second chance if we go down, and I’m glad I could help us see overtime through.”
Michigan had two great chances of its own in each half of extra time. Both were off corners, and each time the ball found the back of the net. Twice the Wolverines thought they had put the game to bed with a golden goal, and twice the referee waived it off for what appeared to be a foul in the box.
“You hope when you put in a great cross and put in a great header it wins you the game,” Ryan said. “But it didn’t happen for us tonight.”
One hundred and 10 minutes weren’t enough time to separate the two sides, and penalties would decide which team would advance to the next round. After scoring all their spot kicks, it was the Redbirds that gained the right to do so.