Nicki Hernandez saw a lot on the field Friday night. As a forward, she was all over the place for all 90 minutes. But the only sight that mattered was her glimpse of the open goal.
In the 79th minute, the junior forward found herself at midfield with the ball, a familiar sight. But this time the situation wasn’t so familiar. Hernandez capitalized on Bowling Green’s aggressive goalkeeping style. Unassisted, Hernandez took matters into her own hands, taking an ambitious attempt on goal, where the goalkeeper had found herself out of the goal. To everyone’s surprise, especially Hernandez’s, the ball sailed over the goalkeeper, putting Michigan ahead by one over the Falcons.
“I didn’t think it was going in at first,” Hernandez said. “I knew we had to get a result out of it for today especially. It’s a big game, and I thought our team would get it out if we got one, I thought our team would keep ongoing, and I was just really lucky that I got that goal.”
This proved to be the game-winner as the Wolverines held on to defeat Bowling Green, 2-1, and advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Michigan knew this was not going to be an easy game and no one took that to heart more than Hernandez. In frigid conditions with snow piled up on all sides of the field, Hernandez seemingly played harder than everyone else on the field. Playing all 90 minutes, Hernandez got hot and notched three points, adding an assist on the first goal of the game.
All season, the Wolverines have relied on their defense to keep them in games, and it was clear from the beginning that Hernandez was going to have to make an impact on both sides of the ball. Any time the ball was on the left flank of the field, Hernandez was there instantly, frequently outrunning her opponents to secure loose balls.
Despite her efforts, Michigan had no shots on goal in the first half and was severely outplayed. You could see the frustration on Hernandez’s face anytime she was unable to generate opportunities in the midfield. Though her team was able to connect on clean passes in transition, it failed to turn any of these into scoring opportunities.
In the second half, the Wolverines stuck to their game plan of putting pressure on the Bowling Green defense. Led by Hernandez’s assertive play, Michigan came out more aggressive and created more turnovers higher up the field. The most significant turnover came as Hernandez stole the ball from a Falcon defender, leading to a goal her coach described as “unbelievable.”
“The goal (Hernandez) had was unbelievable,” said Michigan coach Jennifer Klein. “Her work rate off the ball was so good.”
Regardless of the flow or score of the game, Hernandez remained steadfast in her role as a forward.
“It’s both defensive and attacking,” Hernandez said. “As a forward I know I can’t get caught up just in my attacking role. I gotta get back and defend because I know the team can’t all be an attacking team. (I’ve) gotta do other things.”
Hernandez epitomized Klein’s game plan for the day. Never laying off her pressure on the attack allowed the Wolverines to generate more second-half shots and ultimately the two goals needed to seal the victory.
Shocked about her game-winning goal and speechless about advancing to the next round of the NCAA Tournament, Hernandez only had one thought postgame: win the next game.
“We’re looking for a lot of energy coming out,” Hernandez said. “We really want to come out with a win. I know that with this team we can really do that. I think we have a big advantage coming into this game.”