Facing No. 15 Minnesota and the Big Ten’s leader in points and goals per game, Simone Kolander, the Michigan women’s soccer team needed a strong performance out of its defense and starting goaltender Sarah Jackson.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, that's exactly what they received, drawing the Golden Gophers in a scoreless tie. Up against the aggressiveness of the opposition and a slippery ball on a rain-soaked pitch, Jackson tied her career high in saves with 11.
“Sarah continues to just be rock-solid in goal," said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. "She did everything right today; she dealt with some hard shots, crosses — she took care of everything. She’s had a great, great year.”
The sophomore goalie recorded her sixth clean sheet of the season, as her half-maize, half-mud-colored uniform spoke to her effort in diving saves on shots blasted to both corners of net by the Minnesota offense.
“At the beginning of the game when the field was so wet, we thought it was going to be a multiple-goal game, so it was actually surprising when it finished 0-0,” Jackson said. “As always, team-defending was our number one goal, and we’re just happy that we got the shutout.”
Michigan’s shutout was aided by the return of senior Anna Soccorsi, whose absence due to a concussion was notable in Thursday’s draw against Wisconsin, when the Wolverines were forced to play with an extra defender. Her presence Sunday enabled the Wolverines to play in more of an attacking 4-3-3 shape.
In the defender's return to the lineup, Soccorsi was vital in containing Minnesota’s star attackers, blocking shots, intercepting passes and controlling the Wolverine defense across the pitch.
“It was a good effort by everyone to stay inside of their player and work hard to get back in and mark the box,” Soccorsi said. “They were coming at us in the beginning, but I think we did well to keep them at bay.”
Added Ryan: “I can’t even imagine playing against Minnesota without her. Anna was everywhere — defending and shutting down one-on-one situations, giving cover to her teammates when they got beat. She’s just a fantastic defender, and we’re fortunate to have her in the middle of our defense.”
Though Michigan was pleased with the shutout, the team failed to move up in the conference standings with Sunday's result, clinging to fourth place in the Big Ten after its fourth straight match without a win,
Despite the recent slump with two consecutive ties after back-to-back losses, Ryan sees the draw against Minnesota as a successful result for his team.
“Our focus is to get back in the NCAA Tournament, and getting a tie against a Minnesota team with a very high RPI is going to be one more result that really helps us do that," Ryan said. "If we take care of the next two games like we’re capable of, I think it’ll pay off for our girls.”
Michigan will have its first opportunity to do just that Saturday against Ohio State in the Wolverines' final home match of the season.