Wolverines' unbeaten home run ended
It was senior night, the last home game of the regular season for the Michigan women’s soccer team, and only 90 minutes against fierce rival Ohio State separated it from finishing the season undefeated at U-M Soccer Stadium. But by the time the final whistle blew, the Wolverines either lay on the turf devastated or held their hands to their heads in disbelief as the Buckeyes celebrated a 2-1 win courtesy of a stellar performance from forward Nichelle Prince.
“Anyone watching the game would’ve said Michigan were the better team,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “They only had one chance in the first half, and one in the second that they put away.”
Despite missing star senior forward Nicky Waldeck, the Wolverines (5-3-2 Big Ten, 9-4-3 overall) did in fact play some of their finest soccer all year. Playing a 4-1-4-1 formation, they stifled the Buckeyes' midfield and played most of the game in Ohio State's half.
Michigan created many chances, ending the game with 15 shots. But for all their creativity, the Wolverine attacks were continually thwarted by Buckeyes keeper Devon Kerr, who ended the game with five saves.
“You gotta give their keeper credit,” Ryan said. “She made some fantastic saves, came off her line well and had a great night.”
Three-times Kerr came up big for Ohio State (4-3-3, 10-5-3) in one-on-one situations when it looked as though Michigan would finally capitalize on its great build-up play. In the first half, sophomore forward Reilly Martin thought she had herself a goal when she found herself chasing a ball that sent her through on goal. But just before she could capitalize on the chance, Kerr came off her line to grab the ball from Martin’s feet.
In the second half, Martin had another chance after taking on four Buckeye defenders, cutting out wide to the left of the box and having a sight at goal, only for Kerr to close the gap between herself and Martin, making the shot that much harder.
Kerr’s best stop of the night was when redshirt junior midfielder Ani Sarkisian found herself with space in the Ohio State box and the goal at her mercy. Kerr rushed off her line once again, forcing the Wolverine captain to shoot directly at her.
However, for all the chances Michigan created, it managed to beat Kerr only once. Thirty-one minutes into the game, Martin, who was playing as a lone forward in Waldeck’s absence, turned and lost her defender just outside of the box to give herself time and space to shoot. Kerr was forced into a diving save but spilled the ball into the box, where sophomore midfielder Abby Kastroll pounced on the loose ball to tap it in and tie the game at one goal apiece.
For all the Wolverines’ dominance on the ball, Ohio State was content to counterattack and boot the ball up-field to the only player on the turf who had a better night than Kerr: Prince.
With every touch of the ball, every drop of the shoulder and every shot, Prince caused problems for the Michigan backline.
Charged with leading the defense against the Buckeyes’ counterattacks, senior defender Anna Soccorsi knew firsthand just how tough it was to stop Prince.
“(Prince) is just a great player overall,” Soccorsi said. “She made us work hard all night just to keep up with her.”
Prince marked herself as the player to watch just five minutes into the game in what was Ohio State’s first attack of the night. After neatly controlling a long ball, she kept the ball away from three Wolverine defenders and waited for support from her team.
With players making runs on her left and right to stretch the Michigan backline, Prince ran at Soccorsi and freshman defender Jada Dayne. Getting to the edge of the box, she took a shot that, though blocked by the two center backs, fell on the right side of the box in the path of forward Sammy Edwards who, unguarded, rifled a shot across goal into the side netting.
The Wolverines dominated what was left of the first half and were able to equalize courtesy of Kastroll’s goal.
With all the momentum, Michigan looked as though it was going to take over the game. But in what seemed like deja vu, Ohio State scored another early goal to start the second half, leaving the Wolverines trailing once again.
Prince grabbed a goal for herself just seven minutes into the half. After getting down the right wing, she sent a teasing low cross into the Michigan box. Soccorsi managed to get it out, but only as far as Prince, who sent a left-footed curler from the right side of the box toward goal. Goalkeeper Sarah Jackson managed to get a hand to it, but the power in the shot saw it end up in the top left corner of the net.
“(Prince) is a handful for everyone,” Ryan said. “She’s a fantastic striker, she’s even on Canada’s national teams. She’s been a handful for four years, and tonight she showed the quality she has.”
The Wolverines spent the rest of the half trying to find their way through a stubborn Buckeye defense that looked content to sit back, soak up pressure and play long balls to Prince, hitting Michigan on the counter.
The Wolverines tried everything — crossing the ball into the box, passing through the midfield and defense, countless set pieces and running at defenders — but they kept coming up short.
Then, with just seven minutes left in the game, Prince found herself with space outside the box, roughly 25 yards from goal. She pulled the trigger, attempting to curl the ball over and around the keeper. Jackson remained static and looked to have been beaten as the ball sailed over her and crashed against the crossbar.
By that point the Wolverines had run of ideas, and whatever momentum they had seemed to have been lost as Ohio State comfortably saw out the rest of the game.
With two players on top of their game at either end of the field, the Buckeyes stole three points from under the noses of a Michigan team that visibly played its heart out on senior night.
“You can’t fault the intensity of the girls out there tonight,” Ryan said. “I thought it was some of the best soccer we played all year in terms of passing and connecting between the girls and playing through Ohio State.”