Early on in a bout between the top two teams in the Big Ten, it looked like the No. 24 Michigan women’s soccer team would live up to its end of the billing against No. 13 Wisconsin. The Wolverines (8-3-1 overall, 3-1-1 Big Ten) came out strong and determined, dictating the match’s tempo and controlling possession.

The promising start, though, proved to be a mirage. A serious scoring opportunity never materialized for Michigan, who dropped a hard-fought match, 2-0, to the Badgers (8-2-1, 4-0-0) in Madison on Thursday night. The loss snapped the Wolverines’ six-match unbeaten streak.

“I think we just lost a little bit of rhythm,” said Michigan coach Jennifer Klein. “After they scored the first goal, we never were able to get into the full swing of things.”

The game’s trajectory seemed to change in the 18th minute, when Wisconsin forward Lauren Rice lofted a high-arching ball from the left side of the pitch. The ball floated over the defense to the edge of the six-yard box, where it grazed off the head of forward Dani Rhodes. As it bounced off the turf and brushed past the left hand of junior goalkeeper Hillary Beall into the back right corner of the net, all early optimism and momentum for Michigan was quickly erased. 

Rhodes’ goal proved to be all Wisconsin would need, as the Wolverines were listless offensively, managing a season-low four shots on goal. 

“Particularly in attack, just getting back to the way we play by playing the ball fast,” said junior defender Alia Martin. “You know, little passes, being disciplined in our possession, and being more dangerous in the final third.”

On a breakaway in the 62nd minute, Badger forward Cameron Murtha sprinted free down the right flank, drawing Beall out of the net. Rather than forcing a one-on-one, Murtha patiently waited for a teammate’s help. Rhodes then came streaking down the middle of the pitch, burying a one-timer. Despite facing a 2-0 deficit, Michigan continued to fight.

“I was definitely impressed by that,” Klein said. “Continuing to push, to fight back and look to get a goal, that really speaks to the team mentality. You know, to never give up and to fight to the end.”

The Wolverines entered the match ranked in the United Soccer Coaches Poll for the first time since 2017, recognition that the team didn’t take lightly. 

“It kind’ve gives us that feedback of, ‘Hey, you’re doing something right, keep building,’ ” Martin said. “Now it’s all about where we can go from here.”

What Michigan does moving forward will dictate whether the ranking marks a season high-point or just the beginning. 

“We went up against a very good opponent and I think we need to go back and look at the film to see the areas that we got exposed so we can tighten things up,” Klein said. “There’s a lot of season left, and we’re in a very difficult conference, so we just have to control what we can by putting ourselves in a good position to finish strong and ultimately put goals in the back of the net.”

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