The Michigan women’s soccer team has had a tumultuous start to the season. Despite scoring 22 goals and conceding just six, the Wolverines hold a mediocre 5-3 record.
And when faced with their toughest challenge yet in No. 13 Notre Dame (7-0-1), the obstacle proved too large to hurdle, as Michigan fell to the Fighting Irish on Sunday night, 2-0.
Michigan coach Greg Ryan paid tribute to the quality of the opposition following the loss.
“Let’s not forget Notre Dame are a great team,” Ryan said. “In all their games this season, they’ve only let in a total of 15 shots. (That’s) fantastic defending.”
The hallmark of the Wolverines’ season thus far has been their ability to set up shots and create scoring opportunities for themselves at any point in the game. But the Fighting Irish restricted the potent offense to just three shots in 90 minutes while testing Michigan with nine of their own.
Defense wasn’t the only problem.
“Our play in midfield was fantastic,” Ryan said. “The midfielders moved the ball around the field really well, and managed to get it to the forwards most of the time. But then we would lose possession. I need to work on our strikers holding the ball up the field.”
While Michigan struggled on offense, Notre Dame’s attack proved clinical. The Fighting Irish scored both goals in the opening 45 minutes.
The first goal came from a free kick. Though sophomore goalkeeper Megan Hinz kept defender Katie Naughton’s initial header out, she parried the ball into the path of forward Natalie Jacobs, who pounced on the rebound. The second goal rattled in off the near post, knocked in by forward Anna Gilbertson. The Wolverines’ best chance of the game didn’t come until the 40th minute, when senior midfielder Corinne Harris forced the Notre Dame goalkeeper into a diving save with a shot from outside the 18-yard box.
The second half started with a Michigan substitution: Hinz was replaced with freshman goalkeeper Sarah Jackson, who had played just 24 minutes prior to Sunday. Jackson fared better than Hinz did, escaping the half without conceding a goal.
“After conceding two goals we needed a better performance in goal,” Ryan said. “Sarah did very well after coming on. It’s good to know we have someone who can come on against a top opponent and not give up a goal.”
Ryan acknowledged that Hinz had to deal with more pressure on her goal than Jackson did. Notre Dame played a brilliant first half and came into the second looking to hold on to its lead. The next 45 minutes featured the Fighting Irish defending deep and trying to catch Michigan on the counterattacks. As a result, Notre Dame managed just three shots in the second half, compared to six in the first.
Given the way both Michigan keepers fared in the game, Ryan didn’t rule out the prospect of her earning the starting role later in the season.
“(Hinz) conceded one on her near post,” Ryan said. “I’ll have to go over the footage and review her performance, and then we’ll see from there.”