At halftime of Friday’s match against UC Riverside, Michigan women’s soccer coach Greg Ryan recognized his team’s offensive system wasn’t matching up with that of the Highlanders. He felt his team wasn’t playing as aggressively as it should, and made the proper adjustment heading into the final half.
For the last 45 minutes, the adjustment paid off.
In the 59th minute, Abby Kastroll cradled the ball on the flank, and the sophomore midfielder used her unmatched speed to take the ball along the right side. With enough space to create a scoring opportunity, she crossed the ball in front of the mouth of the goal — past three defenders — to sophomore forward Reilly Martin, who kicked the ball through the legs of Highlander goalkeeper Alanna Guzman.
It was the first, but not the last, goal for the Wolverines (4-1-1) in their 4-0 shutout of UC Riverside at U-M Soccer Stadium. In Michigan’s second straight shutout, the victory boiled down to amplifying the offensive pressure, playing the ball forward and keeping the Highlanders on their heels for the entire second half.
“(In the) first half, UC Riverside came out really strong,” Kastroll said. “We came in the second half, changed our tactics and just went at them and it ended up working out for us. We realized that goal-scoring opportunities weren’t just going to come, we had to work for them. We started working to get in behind them and creating our own chances.”
With one goal on the scoreboard, it took until the 81st minute for the second — the first of a three-goal flurry that came in the final 10 minutes of regulation. After the ball flew over her head and began rolling toward the goal, Kastroll sprinted onto it, put one touch on the ball and rocketed it into the net from 18 yards out.
For the entire night, Kastroll proved to be the most dangerous player on Michigan’s roster. Whether she was weaving in and out of defenders, winning loose balls or challenging the goalkeeper on every potential goal-scoring opportunity, Kastroll was making her presence felt all over the field. It was only a matter of time until one of her shots fell.
“I like just to go hard because it’s just pretty motivating for the team,” Kastroll said. “Some people react to someone yelling at them (to) do better or encouraging them, I just like to go into a tackle to get the team going.”
Added Ryan: “You look at Abby, and you say, ‘She’s Braveheart out there.’ She’s like fighting for every ball, sliding. But there was some real quality in her game tonight. I mean her touch on the ball and her beating players in the one-on-one, and then that finish, that was a rocket.”
Four minutes later, senior midfielder Jessica Heifetz scored her first goal of the season off a corner kick, when she launched the ball through the legs of Guzman off a short bounce. Soon after, junior midfielder Rubina Veerakone served the ball into the box, and freshman forward Grace Salvino got a piece of it before it went in for her first career goal.
In the second half, UC Riverside rarely made it past midfield, and Michigan’s defense limited the Highlanders to only one shot — three for the game. With a five-woman back line captained by redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Jackson, the Wolverines outmatched and outnumbered their opponent.
Most notably, UC Riverside was awarded only one corner kick all game, a testament to Michigan successfully executing the intangible elements of the game. The Wolverines were quick to get the ball out of their defensive half, and by fighting for the ball on the end line and passing the ball forward, they gave the Highlanders little chance of sneaking in behind the back line.
“I think we just put them on their back foot with all the pressure, but the defense has been very, very solid for us,” Ryan said. “No goals against Ole Miss, no goals against Notre Dame, no goals again tonight. Defensively they’re doing a great job. They’re not letting the opponent in behind us, and Sarah is doing a great job behind them.
“(UC Riverside) only having one corner is us keeping them in front of us. You give away corners when people start getting behind you, and they just didn’t get behind our back line much, and that’s been very consistent for us.”
Friday’s match marked the end of Michigan’s non-conference slate, which means the Wolverines are inching even closer to their primary goal of winning a Big Ten championship. But Michigan is not letting its guard down.
“We’re definitely not content going into the Big Ten play,” Kastroll said. “We’re hungry for more.”