The clock had run out, the scoreboard read 1-1 and the Michigan women’s soccer team was headed to a penalty-kick shootout against Wisconsin to see who would reach the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
One hundred and ten minutes of grueling soccer would be decided with another few kicks of the ball. The tied game would ultimately fall in favor of the Wolverines, who won the ensuing shootout 4-2.
Both teams would have liked to finish the game before it came to spot kicks, but neither looked capable of getting the decisive goal that would send them to the semifinals.
Michigan (6-3-2 Big Ten, 10-4-4 overall) played a defensive 5-1-3-1 formation, defending deep and looking to hit the Badgers (5-2-4, 8-4-8) on the counterattack. Wisconsin played the game attacking Michigan with its high pressing 4-1-2-1-2 while dominating midfield.
“We knew we weren’t going to play much through the middle today because of their diamond in midfield,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “So we thought that we would play around them and get the ball to one of our forwards.”
The Wolverines were reduced to playing out wide through sophomore forwards Reilly Martin and Abby Kastroll, or forced to play balls over the Badgers defense for forward Nicky Waldeck to chase down.
Michigan wasn’t affected by the Badgers’ 18 shots — most of them from outside the box. The five-player defense with senior midfielder Jessica Heifetz sitting just ahead of them as a central defensive midfielder was a nightmare for Wisconsin to bypass, despite playing most of the game in the Wolverines’ half, just outside the penalty area.
The collective defensive effort, along with sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Jackson’s, was enough to hold the Badgers to one goal. Jackson ended the game with seven saves, most of which were shot right at her, but some that forced her to dive. She was great in the air, too, snatching dangerous crosses before a Wisconsin player managed to get a head or foot on the ball.
“I always have faith that my defense is marking well behind me,” Jackson said. “But I know I can make everyone’s job easier if I cut it out before it gets there. If I think I can grab it, I’ll go for it.”
The Wolverines didn’t fare as well on the other half of the field, though, relying on individual inspiration from Martin to cause problems for the Wisconsin back line.
Martin started the day at right wing, switching to the left by halftime.
“We didn’t get at them much in the first half.” Ryan said. “We put Reilly (Martin) on the left, and when she was against (defender Camryn Biegalski) we started getting chances.”
Martin turned around and lost two defenders before getting down the wing and crossing the ball in, assisting Waldeck for the first goal of the game. She spent the rest of quarter-final running at Biegalski, crossing the ball into the box or cutting inside and playing through balls for Waldeck. If Michigan was going to find a winner, Martin would have been involved.
“I think we were trying to get our best option down the flanks,” Martin said. “We didn’t know how they were going to come out, so we switched around trying to see what worked. With me, Nikki (Waldeck), Ani (Sarkisian) and Abby (Kastroll) all up there we can make anything happen up the field.”
However, for all of Martin’s work, the rest of the Wolverine forward line — save for Waldeck — didn’t play like the strike-force that made the All-Big Ten Second Team. They looked out of ideas when they had the ball at their feet, pressed into losing it by the Badgers’ high-pressing team, or playing it long, hoping Waldeck might get on the end of it.
Both teams would have to try their luck from 12 yards to decide the outcome of the tie.
“That was nerve-racking for sure,” Jackson said. “I had a lot of faith in our strikers, and knew that if I saved one we’d have a shot.”
Badgers’ midfielder Micaela Powers took the first spot-kick and crashed the ball into the cross bar as Wolverine goalkeeper Sarah Jackson dove to her right.
Michigan answered with its best outfield player on the day, Martin. She sent a powerful drive towards the left of the goal that keeper Caitlyn Clem got a hand to, but ultimately could not save.
Jackson got the save she wanted from Wisconsin’s second attempt, diving low to her left to deny defender Morgan Taylor.
Martin’s teammates followed the precedent she set, scoring each of their penalties, setting the Wolverines up for a 4-2 win on penalties and a semifinal against Big Ten champion Minnesota.