Fifth-year senior midfielder Sarah Stratigakis felt the pressure as she trapped a pass in a sea of DePaul defenders. Not wanting to give up a prime scoring opportunity, she made a short pass to senior midfielder Raleigh Loughman at the top of the penalty arc.
The Blue Demons moved up, charging toward the ball but forgetting about fifth-year senior midfielder Nicki Hernandez near the left corner of the goal area. A quick pass to Loughman opened up an angle to hit Hernandez as she willed her pass around the defense. Hernandez took two touches before firing the ball safely into the bottom right corner, breaking Michigan’s goalless streak in its 155th minute.
The Wolverines’ aggressive play — shown by Hernandez’s goal — persisted on both sides of the ball to propel No. 24 Michigan (5-1) to a 1-0 victory over DePaul (2-3) on Sunday. The Blue Demons couldn’t adapt to the Wolverines’ pressure, and they were outshot 27-5.
But Michigan wasn’t always in total control. After sophomore forward Sammi Woods got early chances to start the game, the midfield forced many passes leaving the Wolverines’ defensive half. DePaul earned quick shots from these errors.
As a result, Michigan switched up its strategy, focusing on shorter range passes between defenders and the midfield that it then carried up the side of the field. The Blue Demons didn’t adjust, and the Wolverines generated shot after shot.
“Sometimes at the start of the game you’ve gotta get into it and you’ve gotta settle in,” Michigan coach Jennifer Klein said. “I think what’s good about them is they don’t get rattled in that moment … They got into a rhythm and were able to find the spaces.”
Energy punctuated the Wolverines’ game plan, and they utilized 19 different players throughout the game. Relentlessly attacking the ball led to countless chances for Michigan, and that eventually led to the game’s only goal in the 34th minute.
“I really like that we have such a talented group of players,” senior defender Janiece Joyner said. “We’re able to rotate a lot of people.”
Woods played a large role in that energy, chasing the ball and keeping DePaul from settling in. She took three shots at the beginning of the second half, but the Blue Devils cleared the ball out of their zone to end her attack.
“(Woods) was threatening in some good areas,” Klein said. “ (She) had some good interchange with different players, and so I think that movement really put her in some great positions … she’s right there knocking at the door.”
The Wolverines looked strong, but their problems converting ample shots into goals in Friday’s loss against Southern California continued against DePaul. They forced Blue Demons goalkeeper Mollie Eriksson to make tough saves, but couldn’t find the back of the net.
It looked like Michigan would score a second goal in the 56th minute when Stratigakis shot the ball high above Eriksson. A hollow clang rattled through the stadium as the ball bounced straight down off the crossbar. The Wolverines thought the ball went in, but the officials did not review it.
Outside of offense, Michigan’s back line stood tall. Junior defender Jayde Riviere and Joyner cleared any DePaul attempts.
Much of this came from closing on any Blue Demon attacker with the ball. Forwards tried to pass back to midfielders and reset plays, but they never settled into the tight area the defense gave them.
Michigan thoroughly beat DePaul, but still struggled to turn lopsided offensive chances into multiple tallies on the scoreboard. The Wolverines’ biggest question — how to capitalize on huge shot disparities — remained unanswered.