At first, Reilly Martin didn’t want to take the penalty kick in the 39th minute of Friday night’s game. After the sophomore midfielder was taken down inside the box by an Ole Miss defender, Martin was shaken up and senior midfielder Jessica Heifetz stepped forward to finish the job with the Michigan women’s soccer team clinging to a 1-0 lead.
That was until head coach Greg Ryan called for Martin to take it herself, especially since she was the player who drew the penalty.
Martin stepped forward and paused. Three weeks ago on Aug. 11, she was in the exact spot against the goalkeeper from then-No. 4 Virginia, but Martin’s attempt ricocheted off the left post. This time against Ole Miss, though, there was no chance she’d let it hit anything other than the net.
With her right foot, Martin kicked the ball past Rebels goalkeeper Marnie Merritt, giving Michigan (3-1-1) a much-needed insurance goal and an eventual 2-0 victory.
“She’s the one kid I know will put it in the back of the net,” Ryan said. “Great for her to step up, and that was the goal that put the game away.”
Twenty minutes earlier, redshirt junior forward Ani Sarkisian opened the game up for Michigan after Martin took the ball up the field, drew off a defender inside the box and gave Sarkisian an open look to spiral a shot into the upper 90 for a one-goal lead.
The Wolverines knew they were facing a high-octane offense in Ole Miss, and getting on the board early would be the difference maker. Much of this week’s focus leading up to the game was to work on having two extra defenders on the ball carrier, because Ryan knew that his team couldn’t stop the Rebels offense one player at a time.
The strategy worked for Michigan, which headed into halftime with a two-goal lead. Luckily for the Wolverines, they continued to execute their game plan in the second half against an Ole Miss squad even hungrier to even out the scoring.
“At halftime,” Ryan said, “I told them, ‘Hold on, it’s coming. They’re going to throw everything at ya. We’re gonna be defending a lot. Keep your shape, keep your composure and you’ll be fine.’ ”
Added Sarkisian: “Second half, we didn’t really control the tempo as much but they were knocking on our door all 45 minutes and we did a great job of just keeping them out of our box and defending as a whole unit.”
Three minutes into the second half, Ole Miss fired off a shot only to have it saved by sophomore redshirt goalkeeper Sarah Jackson. The Rebels placed an extra forward up front and brought up most of their outside backs, showing how eager they were to narrow the deficit.
Ole Miss (3-2) fired off just four shots in the first half, but in the second, the offense came alive in a 12-shot onslaught — four of which came in the final 10 minutes of the game.
Jackson made a diving save on the final shot from the Rebels. Even if Ole Miss had scored in those final minutes for a one-goal loss instead of two, Michigan still wanted the shutout. This season, the team’s motto is “All In,” meaning they have to put in the effort in all 90 minutes, because letting loose for even a few seconds could result in a late comeback by an opponent — something the Wolverines dealt with on occasion last season.
With Jackson making nine saves through 90 minutes, though, the Rebels efforts were thwarted.
“Sarah was very, very sharp tonight,” Ryan said. “The thing with Sarah is she’s getting really confident, and that was a key for her, because she’s always had the ability and the athleticism, and tonight was a perfect game for her. She can get to just about anything.”
The season ahead is promising for the Wolverines after they shut out a high-caliber offensive team ranked in the NSCAA top 25 last week. With the exception of a loss to Marquette, Michigan has made the most of its opportunities to compete against some of the best talent in the country.
And with Big Ten play just two weeks away, the Wolverines will be that much more prepared to begin their journey toward a conference title.