Greg Ryan didn’t mince words.
“They’re not happy,” the Michigan women’s soccer coach said of his team after it fell, 1-0, to Purdue on an 83rd-minute volley. “They’re very disappointed in tonight. I don’t think we fought hard enough to get the result.”
To Ryan, conference battles are won and lost by upperclassmen and the leadership they bring. But against a Boilermaker team that Ryan described as “inexperienced”, the aforementioned veteran presence and effort wasn’t there.
Mostly exempt from Ryan’s criticism, however, were the Wolverines’ freshmen — three of whom started Thursday night.
On a Michigan team riddled with injuries to key contributors — junior forward Abby Kastroll sat for a second straight game, while freshmen midfielders Alia Martin and Nicki Hernandez were also out — the play of freshmen midfielders Lauren Long, Sarah Stratigakis and Samantha DeVecchi and substitute forward Emma Cooper proved to be a silver lining.
“(The underclassmen) were the ones keeping us in possession,” Ryan said. “They were the ones opening and showing and connecting to give us opportunities.”
Ryan visibly grinned upon mention of DeVecchi, who made her first career start against Purdue. The Orinda, Calif. native teamed up with Long in central midfield, and both players served as steadying forces on both offense and defense, making plays wherever they were needed.
Stratigakis, who has started every game this season and is tied for second on the team in points, was the engine of the Wolverines’ attack for much of the contest. Showing composure and creativity in possession, her precise passing from all distances set up opportunities and helped Michigan outshoot the Boilermakers 7-3 in the first half.
“Sam was fantastic tonight. Lauren Long was outstanding, (redshirt sophomore) Katie Foug in the midfield and Sarah Stratigakis were outstanding,” Ryan said. “I just thought the young kids that played tonight added so much to the game and they were really helping carry the plate for us.”
As the Wolverines continue to fight through adversity and inexperience, it’s games like this — conceding a heartbreaker in the final minutes — that they hope will steel their resolve.
“The biggest thing is just to use this as a learning experience,” said redshirt junior forward Taylor Timko. “We have a ton of young players and they stepped up incredibly. That’s a positive we can take away if we focus on the things that we did do well and really perfect those.”
After a second straight shutout at home — the first such instance since 2013 — Michigan has no shortage of issues, injuries notwithstanding, to work out before it welcomes Indiana to Ann Arbor on Sunday.
But that might be just what the youthful Wolverines need.
“You find what you’re made of in the dark times,” Timko said. “And I think this is going to be a big test for our team.”