With 4:06 left on the game clock, Ani Sarkisian stepped forward to take the Michigan women’s soccer team’s second penalty kick of the afternoon. Twelve minutes prior, the redshirt junior midfielder had made a run up the left lane and sent a shot sailing wide of the net — the Wolverines’ captain was hungry to score.
Sarkisian launched the ball toward the left part of the net, but Virginia goalkeeper Kelsey Kilgore made a diving stop, tipping the ball out of bounds. Kilgore’s block held off Michigan’s final offensive push and paved way for a 1-0 Cavalier victory in the two teams’ exhibition match in Ann Arbor on Thursday.
The Wolverines had been dormant on the offensive end for much of the game, with the exception of an early penalty kick by sophomore forward Reilly Martin, who hit the left post in the 39th minute. It was the first major scoring opportunity for Michigan to tie the game, after Virginia had scored its lone goal just 27 seconds earlier.
But in the final 20 minutes of gameplay, the Wolverines offense came alive. Michigan collected four shots and three corner kicks, all of which were quality scoring chances that barely tipped the wrong way for the Wolverines.
“We had an amazing performance today,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “To step on the field against a team as quality as Virginia and then to create enough chances to tie or win the game, I was really, really happy. I thought we were extremely disciplined in what we were doing as a group.”
Michigan’s next-best scoring chance came minutes before Sarkisian’s penalty kick attempt. Freshman forward Brooke DeSantis broke in behind Virginia’s backline after receiving an overhead pass from the midfield. DeSantis made a run at the net, rocketed the ball toward the crossbar and Kilgore blocked it upward.
DeSantis had nearly scored in the second period as well just after Martin’s penalty kick attempt, when she made a run through the Cavalier backline but was stopped short of getting a shot off.
“Brooke is a handful,” Ryan said. “The one run she made and got in behind was fabulous.”
Sunday’s exhibition at West Virginia had left several players unable to play in Thursday’s match due to injury, such as senior defender Madisson Lewis, senior forward Nicky Waldeck and sophomore midfielder Abby Kastroll — all of whom should be ready for next Friday’s season opener.
According to Ryan, he saw several players make huge strides in a game where the entire team needed to step up with its depth remaining questionable.
DeSantis and junior midfielder Emma Groffsky managed the frontlines, giving Michigan a fighting chance to break past Virginia’s tight defense that quickly suppressed most counter attacks.
As for the midfield, sophomore Jackie White and redshirt freshman Katie Foug steadied the ship, while freshman Jada Dayne and junior Rubina Veerakone were incremental in keeping a sound backfield. Just over 10 minutes into the game, Dayne cleared the ball out of the six-yard box before the Cavaliers could potentially hit the back of the net.
“When you have this many injuries, you need your depth to be quality,” Ryan said. “Right now they’re showing they can do the job.”
With Michigan opening the regular season next Friday against Pittsburgh, Ryan said his team needs to focus on two things in the upcoming week and a half.
“We know if we’re gonna be able to do much this year, we gotta be healthy,” Ryan said. “Number two, we just gotta keep growing. We’ve come along ways in a week. We’ve come from really no identity of how to play together to a very tight, organized structure.
“I’m really happy, but we just gotta keep progressing. We gotta be able to make penalty kicks.”