Wolverines lucky to get a draw against Badgers
It was two minutes into the second half of extra time, and the Wisconsin women's soccer team already had one shot cleared off the line. Another, Michigan sophomore keeper Sarah Jackson just managed to stop from crossing the line.
From the first whistle onward, the Badgers always looked like the better team. They were more composed on the ball, carved out better chances and kept the ball in the Wolverines’ half.
By the time the game ended, the scoreboard read 1-1, a tally that did not show how the Badgers had outplayed the Wolverines.
Michigan (5-2-1 Big Ten, 9-3-2 overall) had just come off two losses on the road before playing Wisconsin (3-2-3, 6-4-6).
Michigan’s 4-3-3 formation looked shaky from the start, so it came as no surprise that 20 minutes in the ball was already in the back of the net for Wisconsin. Following a long throw-in by the Badgers, the Wolverine backline was unable to clear the ball, and forward Rose Lavelle pounced on the loose ball to smash it past Jackson.
Lavelle was singled out for her performance in the game by Michigan coach Greg Ryan.
“Their number three (Lavelle) is a special player,” Ryan said. “We had to keep two on her at all times, and she still caused us problems all night.”
Michigan changed to a defensive 5-3-2 formation, and for the rest of the game prioritized not conceding, taking its chances as it tried to hit Wisconsin on the counter.
“We struggled with four in the back,” Ryan said. “We had to switch to a defensive system. If we played the way we started, we would have lost that game.”
The Wolverines observably missed senior defender Anna Soccorsi, who was out with an injury. She was the one that led the backline, keeping it organized and on its heels.
After having its back to the wall in the first half, Michigan surprisingly saw itself draw level.
With four minutes left in the first half, Wisconsin cleared a Wolverine corner straight to Michigan junior defender Rubina Veerakone, who played a lofted ball into the box that found the head of senior forward Nicky Waldeck.
“Veerkone played in a nice weighted ball,” Waldeck said. “I got a flick on it, and I think it surprised the keeper a bit, but luckily it found the net.”
The second half proved to be even worse for Michigan. The Badgers dominated the ball with most of the game being played in the Wolverine half. Wisconsin tallied seven shots to the Wolverines' three.
The Badgers’ best chance came with the last kick of regular time. Michigan failed to clear a corner and Wisconsin had a shot on goal that had everyone at U-M Soccer Stadium on their feet. The Badgers' bench had come onto the field thinking the game had been won until it realized that Jackson had kept the Wolverines in the game with a diving save.
Extra time ensued, and Michigan parked the bus. Nine players sat behind the ball, booting every ball up field to give Waldeck and fellow sophomore forward Reilley Martin something to chase. The Wolverines got nothing going forward with this approach, not tallying a shot in extra time.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, had seven shots in extra time, capping its tally at 21 for the game. It had six in the last 10 minutes of the game, three of which were unlucky to not have gone in.
“Most of their chances were second chance,” Ryan said. “Those weren’t difficult to defend. We were second to every ball. You just can’t do that. We struggled with that all week.”
With two minutes left in the game, Wisconsin thought they had won the game again when Lavelle beat three Wolverine defenders and hit a curler toward goal. Jackson got a hand to it, but were it not for the crossbar behind her, Wisconsin would have condemned Michigan to a third straight loss.
“I had a little help,” Jackson said. “I think I got lucky it hit the post. I’m happy it didn’t go in.”
Jackson ended the game with seven saves, having faced 21 shots and conceding only one goal.
“I have one job: to keep the ball out of the net,” Jackson said. “We only conceded one today thankfully, and it was enough to get the tie.”
Michigan was lucky to have ended the game with a draw, and the sentiment appeared to have been shared throughout the locker room.
“We were fortunate,” Ryan said. “Sometimes you have to work hard just to get a tie. We worked hard for that point, and it’s going to matter at the end of the season.”