So far this season, the Michigan women’s soccer team has had a consistent story — the Wolverines (2-1-3 Big Ten, 5-2-6 overall) have utilized a talented crop of freshmen to fill in the gaps left by a multitude of injuries. Michigan’s battle against Nebraska (1-1-2, 7-3-2) on Sunday was consistent with this narrative, with one notable exception.
Fifth-year senior Ani Sarkisian returned.
Sarkisian was the only senior starter, and one of just three seniors to earn minutes in the drag out 110-minute, 1-1 tie.
“It feels like I’ve been out for a year, but it’s been like a week and a half,” Sarkisian said.
After a three-game absence due to injury, Sarkisian resumed her spot back on the field, but not in her usual position. The experienced co-captain had to make up for other Wolverine losses on defense in the first half, before she was moved to a more familiar midfield position to start the second.
“I put (Sarkisian) at centerback,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “She’s played about 10 minutes of centerback before today. We were just trying to find answers.”
But just two minutes into the second half, after getting the wind knocked out of her, Sarkisian stayed down for an extended period of time. The game clock paused before she slowly reached her feet. She jogged off the blow, but just a few minutes later, Sarkisian drew a yellow card. Once again, she looked slow to get up. This time, her teammates capitalized on the free kick, and redshirt junior forward Taylor Timko found the back of the net.
Michigan would not score again.
“More than anything (having Sarkisian back) gives us a leader on the field,” Ryan said. “I think Ani’s presence was clearly felt by everybody in the game. If she got the ball she was calm with it, she connected us.”
While the Wolverines had scoring difficulties, the Cornhuskers were also unable to break the draw, but not for lack of shooting. Nebraska ended the double overtime game with 25 shots, six of which were saved by freshman goalkeeper Hillary Beall. Michigan had just nine shots all match.
With the shaken up defensive line missing key components in sophomore Brooke Cilley and freshman Alia Martin, Beall needed to perform at her peak. In the last seconds of the second overtime, Beall was forced to jump on a live ball in the middle of a scrum. She held on, solidifying the Wolverines’ sixth tie of the season.
“I have tremendous confidence in Hillary,” Ryan said. “This was a big game for her, to play against another real quality opponent and to do well. We’ve had her in some big games. We had her against No.1 South Carolina; she played 90 minutes in that game.”
Beall is one of six freshmen that earned a starting nod for Michigan. The injuries have caused players, like Sarkisian, to learn new roles quickly — and surprise their coach with their success.
“We had two freshmen playing wingback for us today,” Ryan said. “Sam DeVecchi hasn’t been out there — I don’t think she’s ever played there in her life — and I thought they both did really well. That’s been a big bright spot for us. These freshmen like (Faith Harper) and (DeVecchi) who we’ve been able to put into different spots and they do really well anytime we put them anywhere.”
While the Wolverines have been able to grind out even matches with a shuffled roster, they have not been able to push into winning territory. The shorter bench is an obvious obstacle that Michigan may soon be relieved of.
“I think we’re going to have at least two more (players) back next weekend,” Sarkisian said. “It will be nice to have fresh legs out there and have people sub in and out. We weren’t really able to do that much this weekend since we didn’t have as much depth.”
With freshmen proving their abilities and starters returning to the lineup, the Wolverines may soon regain their missing edge.