Sometimes, you just need to take a break. For the Michigan women’s soccer team, halftime provided just what was needed on Sunday, and the Wolverines came out of their break energized and aggressive.
Despite being tied at one with Ohio State (3-5-1 overall, 1-1-0 Big Ten) at the end of the first half, Michigan (7-2-0, 2-0-0) was being outshot 14-7 and had allowed the Buckeyes to dominate possession.
The Wolverines looked like a different team after halftime, and junior midfielder Sarah Stratigakis’ slow-rolling shot four minutes into the half gave Michigan the 2-1 advantage it protected for the rest of the game.
Early on, the Wolverines ceded possession to Ohio State, as they spent much of the match’s first 10 minutes hemmed in their own third of the field.
“I just think Ohio State came out with great energy and came at us really quick with some good pressure,” said Michigan coach Jennifer Klein. “It just took us a little bit of time to settle into the game and get into our game plan. I thought once we were able to possess the ball … it opened up some better opportunities for us.”
Both teams came out physical and the rivalry matchup only contributed to the intensity. There was no shortage of contact—19 fouls were committed between the two teams. The physical play continued throughout and contributed to both Wolverine goals, one coming on a penalty shot and the other off of a free kick.
“I think (physicality) definitely goes into the rivalry and the tradition of the two teams competing,” Klein said. “And both teams coming off a win on Thursday, and getting an opportunity to get two wins on the week, kind of sets itself up for the teams to throw everything at each other.”
About halfway through the first half, a lack of possession cost Michigan. A strong Ohio State shot from just outside the penalty box was blocked by junior defender Alia Martin, who collapsed in pain as a result. As she tried to grab the ball out of the air, junior goalkeeper Hillary Beall collided with sophomore defender Janiece Joyner, allowing the ball to roll to open Buckeye Marissa Birzon. Birzon fired the ball into the back of the net as Beall scrambled to recover from being tangled up on the ground.
Ohio State’s one-goal advantage was short-lived, though, and junior midfielder Nicki Hernandez converted a penalty kick less than 30 seconds later, tying the match at one in the 25th minute.
The Wolverines’ quick answer to tie the game and strong performance in the final 10 minutes of the first half provided some positivity heading into halftime. After the break, they wasted no time getting back to what was working.
“I felt we had a great response in the second half,” Klein said. “To get another goal early, it really helped us settle into the game a bit more.”
Stratigakis drew a foul when she was pulled down from behind bringing the ball into the Buckeye penalty box in the 49th minute. The ensuing free kick was taken by senior midfielder Brook Cilley and deflected in front of the goal by an Ohio State defender. A redirection by sophomore defender Sydney Shepherd sent the ball back to the feet of Stratigakis, who promptly secured a lead for Michigan.
For the rest of the match, the Wolverines’ defense was stout, preventing the Buckeyes from effectively centering the ball and stopping developing attacks with physical play. Ohio State’s lone dangerous scoring opportunity came with six-and-a-half minutes left to play, when a Buckeye striker’s spin move on the left wing freed them to cross the ball into the box. Ohio State’s Kayla Fischer received the ball at point-blank range directly in front of Michigan’s goal and made a last-gasp effort. She fell to the turf as she stretched for the ball and delivered a hard shot to a part of the goal left exposed by Beall. Luckily for the Wolverines, Hernandez’s shin was perfectly placed to prevent a late, game-tying score.
Michigan’s steady improvement over the course of the match was critical in securing the team’s second road win over a Big Ten opponent this week.
“It’s a big rivalry game and when aggression meets aggression, talent shows,” Stratigakis said. “I feel like our team really showed that and that’s why it became a 2-1 result.”