With the game in its infancy, the Michigan women’s soccer team made a rare mistake:
It turned the ball over in its defensive third. Cincinnati midfielder Lauren Bastian moved the ball to forward Vanessa DiNardo, who took the first shot of the game and scored.
The 16th-ranked Wolverines (6-1-1 overall) then found their backs against the wall, a position that felt unfamiliar; usually, they take the ball early and relentlessly attack the opposition. Cincinnati neutralized that attack all through the first half, and Michigan looked like it would return home from its weekend road trip without a win.
Heading into the locker room at halftime, the Wolverines needed a change.
“We were kind of the underdogs in that moment, and we decided we’ve got 45 minutes to change that,” senior midfielder Raleigh Loughman said. “It’s a Sunday game, so you’ve always gotta fight it out. We went into that with a fighting mindset.”
That mindset led to a pair of second-half goals and guided Michigan’s approach to its weekend road games. On Friday, after tying Louisville (4-1-1) at a goal apiece in a game where they dominated possession, the Wolverines utilized their deep roster to battle for a 2-1 win against Cincinnati (4-3-1).
Michigan’s offense has found a consistent pattern this season. It generates dozens of shots every game, but struggles to turn them into goals. The Wolverines addressed those challenges this weekend.
Against the Cardinals, Michigan started the game in its usual position: the driver’s seat. Fifth-year senior midfielder Nicki Hernandez scored the Wolverines’ goal in the 19th minute after Loughman and junior midfielder Dani Wolfe worked the ball past the defense.
But Michigan faced stiff competition following the goal. Midfielder Nina Nicosia slipped Louisville’s first shot of the game past fifth-year goalkeeper Hillary Beall in the 21st minute. The Wolverines dominated possession and made 24 shots, throwing all they had on net. But the finish that has eluded them all season proved absent once again.
Substitutions came early and often in both games. A calling card of Michigan’s team, those decisions kept the Wolverines’ energy high against both opponents. Michigan coach Jennifer Klein utilized 19 outfield players against the Cardinals and 18 against the Bearcats.
“You’ve gotta trust your players,” Klein said. “And you have to trust that the work that they’re doing every week in practice is preparing them for those moments.”
In adjusting from its first game of the weekend, Michigan focused on maximizing the danger of its chances against Cincinnati. This was a marked change from Friday’s match in which the Wolverines peppered the goalkeeper with lower-quality threats.
“Sometimes we can have a lot of shots, but they weren’t necessarily great opportunities,” Loughman said. “So I think we actually did better (against Cincinnati) with creating good opportunities.”
Cincinnati scored its early goal, but the Wolverines refused to roll over. As the midfield worked the ball toward the Bearcats’ goal, Loughman played deeper in the offensive zone. Senior midfielder Meredith Haakenson found a break in the Cincinnati defense, connecting with Loughman for a goal. Michigan had drawn even in the 62nd minute.
Loughman wasn’t done scoring though. Her deep pressure forced a yellow card from Cincinnati midfielder Taylor Nuncio that resulted in a penalty kick. Loughman ripped it deep into the net in the 64th minute, giving her team the lead. After a back-and-forth battle the rest of the game, Beall put the finishing touches on the Wolverines’ victory when she snagged a penalty kick in the 87th minute.
Michigan’s changes had paid off.
The result in Louisville wasn’t what Michigan wanted, but the team switched its approach after a slow start in Cincinnati. Questions about finishing opportunities came closer to answers than they’ve been all season, which bodes well as the Wolverines enter a tough Big Ten campaign.
Daily Sports Writer Connor Earegood can be reached at email@example.com or @ConnorEaregood