A battle occurred Sunday afternoon between the Michigan women’s soccer team and Northwestern as the two teams faced off in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Possession was back and forth, as neither team was able to establish a rhythm at the beginning of the match.
But Michigan was able to break through in the second half and advance in the Big Ten Tournament with a 1-0 victory.
The Wildcats (7-4-1 Big Ten, 13-5-2 overall) put up impressive defensive efforts in the first half to almost entirely shut down the Wolverine offense, allowing the Michigan unit just four shots and making it difficult for the Wolverines to create good opportunities.
“Northwestern threw a different system at us than we expected,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan.
Northwestern’s first shot came 20 minutes into the first half. Both the Wolverines and the Wildcats traded shots, but ended the first half unable to find the back of the net. The first half concluded with four shots for the Wolverines and three for the Wildcats.
Despite being shut down on offense, Ryan still believed the Wolverines (7-3-2, 12-6-2) would come out victorious after halftime, and he commended his players’ “tactical ability” in counteracting the Wildcats’ defensive efforts.
Both teams struggled to find fluidity in their pace due to physical play from both sides, resulting in fouls and free kicks. Free kicks created unsettled balls, not made any easier for the defense by the artificial turf, which caused the ball to bounce more and roll quicker. Michigan knew the field was going to pose a problem, and it came prepared as the Wolverines practiced indoors on turf all week.
Michigan did not waste any time once the second half began. In a matter of three minutes, redshirt sophomore Ani Sarkisian took a shot, but it was junior forward Nicky Waldeck who put the Wolverines up, 1-0. Waldeck received a cross from senior forward Corinne Harris and was able to kick it to the lower corner, just out of the Wildcat goalkeeper’s reach.
Play only became more physical as Northwestern desperately tried to earn an equalizer. Five yellow cards were issued, one each to Harris, senior midfielder Christina Murillo, senior defender Christina Ordonez and Northwestern midfielder Nandi Mehta. Michigan even picked up a yellow card as a team, proving the referees were desperate to keep the game under control.
Desperate to tie the match, the Wildcats continued to push more and more players up. However, the Wolverines settled themselves in a defensive stance and looked to maintain their 1-0 lead.
In the end, Northwestern’s efforts were not enough for the strong Michigan defense, and sophomore goalkeeper Megan Hinz earned herself a shutout.
“Postseason soccer is definitely more intense,” Waldeck said. “We knew that coming into the game. Our season was on the line tonight, and that was our main focus going into the game, and we just want to keep playing game by game.”
With Sunday’s win, the Wolverines secured a spot in the semifinal match against Penn State on Friday.