After finishing off a 3-1 victory over Mayland and cementing the best conference start in school history (5-0), the Michigan women’s soccer team (9-1-1 overall) exited the field together, arms around each other, smiles abounding, singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in unison.
It’s safe to say that after a seventh consecutive win, things are going pretty well for the Wolverines. And it’s that happiness and team chemistry that has keyed their success.
“We’re just best friends and we enjoy spending time together,” said senior forward Nicky Waldeck. “I think that shows on the field.”
Added coach Greg Ryan: “(Team chemistry) is fantastic this year, I see an amazing, positive outlook every time we step out on the field. They have fun. … It’s as good as it’s been since I got here.”
That camaraderie has also led to a widespread distribution of goals throughout the season.
Coming into today, Michigan led the Big Ten with 2.20 goals per game, despite not having a top-10 goal scorer in the conference. Sophomore Reilly Martin, junior Ani Sarkisian and Waldeck share the team lead with five goals each, with sophomore Abby Kastroll just behind with four. In addition, each has at least three assists.
Ryan thinks the widespread balance and unselfishness is what makes them so difficult to gameplan for.
“The fact that we have so many kids (who can score), you never know who’s gonna show up on a given night," Ryan said. "It’s tough to shut down when you have this many goal-scorers.”
On Wednesday, it was Waldeck scoring a hat trick in a crucial road win over No. 17 Rutgers. Against Nebraska, it was Martin and Kastroll tallying the goals to spearhead a 2-1 victory. Against Michigan State, Sarkisian scored the late winner. And on Sunday, two first-time goal-scorers, sophomore Jackie White and junior Emma Groffsky, keyed the victory over Maryland to give a surging Wolverines team its seventh win in a row.
“Everyone’s sharing the ball, nobody is trying to be the star. We’re all just trying to find a goal together,” Ryan said.
As was on display against Maryland, those goals have not been too hard to find lately given Michigan’s team-wide willingness to make the extra pass. In the 23rd minute, Waldeck darted into the box and, despite having an angle at goal, laid the ball off to White in front of the net for the easier finish.
And yet again before half, Martin had her defender beat on the right post, but found an open Groffsky in front of the net, who finished to the left corner.
Their chemistry also allows the Wolverines to hold each other accountable when need be. After Maryland scored a goal to make the score 3-1 with just under 15 minutes remaining, the entire team huddled to discuss continuing to play hard despite its lead.
“This year, we’re just focusing on maintaining our focus,” Waldeck said. “That’s reminding each other on dead plays to just get back into the mindset of whatever we’re doing.”
And they did, seeing through the 3-1 victory and a spot atop the Big Ten standings.
If they continue to play with the offensive balance and unselfishness that has led it to this record start, there may not be a mountain too high for the Wolverines to climb.