On Friday night, the Michigan women’s soccer team (16-3-3 overall, 6-2-2 Big Ten) faced Bowling Green (11-7-3, 8-2-1 MAC) for the second time this season in the NCAA College Cup. The results were no different the second time around.
The second-seeded Wolverines came away with a big 3-0 win to take them into the second round. Michigan began this tournament as a top-eight national seed for the first time in the program’s history.
Michigan came out strong and dominated possession from the onset, keeping the ball in the Falcons’ half. The Wolverines took an early lead with a goal by senior midfielder Meredith Haakenson in the 18th minute after a mess of deflections in the box. It was Haakenson’s third goal of the season.
The game was characterized by high intensity, physicality and lots of fouls. By the final whistle blow, Bowling Green had 14 fouls and Michigan had 11. The Wolverines’ graduate defender Alia Martin and Bowling Green’s forward Nikki Cox both received yellow cards in the 31st minute after a questionable tackle led to a near fight.
“It’s gonna be a physical game,” Michigan coach Jennifer Klein said.“It’s trying to match intensity and aggressiveness.”
The team is no stranger to physical games as they have racked up 15 yellow cards and 167 fouls so far this season.
As the half closed out, the Wolverines led 1-0 on their home field. Michigan had reason to be confident. In the 12 games this season in which they have led at halftime, the Wolverines have won 11. As both teams hit the locker rooms, it was clear the Falcons needed to find a stop for Michigan’s explosive offense and impenetrable defense.
Senior midfielder Nicki Hernandez scored a flawless goal in the 59th minute, her ninth this season. After receiving the ball just outside the 18-yard box, Hernandez beat her defender to cut into the box with her left foot. She then smashed it past the goalie with her right into the top left corner to give her team a cushy 2-0 lead.
Sophomore midfielder Kacey Lawrence furthered the lead to 3-0 with a goal in the 77th minute assisted by Haakenson and senior midfielder Skylar Anderson. The ball was crossed into the box and Lawrence took advantage of the opportunity and pounded it into the back of the net.
The Michigan backline made senior goalkeeper Hillary Beall’s job look easy, as she had zero saves and came away with her seventh shutout of the season. Senior defender Sydney Shepherd and the defensive line held their opponents to only five shots all game, tying their second-fewest shots allowed all season.
“They didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities in our defensive third,” Shepherd said. “I think we also did a good job communicating and organizing our backline.”
Added Haakenson: “That’s been a trend for us the full season, we haven’t let many people produce a lot of shots and a lot of that goes to our backline.”
The Wolverines have outshot their opponent 416-212 and their opponents average 0.81 goals a game.
This was the second time Michigan faced off against Bowling Green this season and they came away with a second victory but as a much better team-win. From the defensive line to the offensive prowess, it was a much improved performance compared to August’s initial match up. Since that first win, Michigan has been crowned Big Ten Tournament Champions.
“Just the growth that our team has had over the course of the season has been unbelievable,” Klein said. “You don’t want to be your best at the beginning, you want to be your best in the end.”
The Wolverines haven’t conceded a match since Oct. 17 against Ohio State, posting a 6-0 record over the last month.
“Let’s keep having fun,” Shepherd said. “We’re having fun right now and it’s fun playing out there.”