With a one-goal lead and two minutes left on the clock, the Michigan women’s soccer team prepared to defend a corner. Rutgers lined up in the box, leaving only one player forward, and the Wolverines assembled to protect their precious lead. The ball fluttered into the near post and bodies flew toward it. In the middle of the scrum, Scarlet Knights forward Nneka Moneme headed the ball into the back of the net. Tie game.
Neither team scored in overtime and the end result was a 1-1 tie between Michigan (5-3-3 Big Ten) and No. 24 Rutgers (6-2-3) after double overtime.
The Wolverines’ offense was operated smoothly during a scoreless first half. They easily passed through the Scarlet Knights’ press, especially from the back. The defensive line maintained their composure and found the passes needed to move the ball up the field. After passes from the defenders broke Rutgers’s first line of defense, the Michigan midfielders had plenty of space to turn and find the next pass, creating several scoring opportunities.
The Wolverines’ best chance came in the 17th minute after a throw-in combination between sophomore forward Danielle Wolfe and senior midfielder Nicki Hernandez gave the latter time for a shot that hit the far post. A few minutes later, Hernandez drove down the left flank and set up Wolfe with a chance just in front of goal, but a frantic block from Rutgers kept the score level at zero.
In the second half, the Wolverines had more difficulty breaking down the Scarlet Knights’ defense. Rutgers marked players more closely, making it harder for Michigan to find space with the ball. However, in the 60th minute, after giving the ball away with poor first touch at the top of the box, Hernandez quickly won it back, spun to her left and scored.
“I figured out where the defenders were, and since they were both on one side, I could just do one move,” Hernandez said. “With the goal being wide open, I always love going far post, and luckily that worked.”
With a strong defensive effort through the first 60 minutes, Michigan looked likely to hold onto that lead. In addition to helping Michigan build out of the back, senior defender Alia Martin was crucial to keeping Rutgers contained with multiple clearances and tackles, constantly communicating to help the team keep their shape.
“We’re continuing to try and improve on our defensive organization to make sure that we make it difficult for other teams and predictable for ourselves,” Michigan coach Jennifer Klein said. “We want to find our opportunities to regain the ball.”
But the defense started to show some cracks after the Wolverines took the lead, with senior goalkeeper Hillary Beall needing to make seven saves. Effective crosses from the Scarlet Knights threatened the back line, and in the end, Michigan conceded the tying goal off a corner with two minutes remaining. The game remained deadlocked in overtime, and after a dominant first-half and an early second-half goal, Michigan had to settle for a tie in its last game of the regular season.
“Unfortunate to give up a goal in the last little bit,” Klein said. “Hopefully it will be a learning experience for us now going into the postseason.”