Freshman forward Reilly Martin didn’t expect to take the Michigan women’s soccer team’s first penalty kick of the season in her first collegiate start. But when she stepped up to the top of the penalty box early in the second half Thursday night, the rookie felt unwavering confidence.
Ninety seconds earlier, Martin had gotten her practice kick when she rocketed a shot toward the top of the net, which was blocked by San Diego goalkeeper Michelle Craft. But when Martin took her stance for the penalty kick and faked right, Craft fell for the trap and Martin struck the ball toward the left post and into an open net.
“The nerves were rushing,” Martin said. “We’ve practiced penalty kicks all the time in practice, so I was confident. I try not to overthink it, step up there and take it.”
Added Michigan coach Greg Ryan: “She’s by far our best penalty kicker. When we do penalty kicks in training, she makes it every time. There was never a question in my mind about who was gonna take that penalty … You have to have confidence (and) you have to have nerves of steel — the game’s riding on it. She’s got that confidence.”
After Martin broke a scoreless tie, junior forward Nicky Waldeck followed shortly thereafter with an insurance goal. Together, the duo helped the Michigan women’s soccer team outshoot the Toreros, 25-5, en route to a 2-1 victory.
The first half featured an unrelenting Michigan attack that outshot the Toreros 13-0 while holding a 7-0 corner-kick advantage. Within the first minute, Waldeck had already gotten a head on the ball in front of the net.
A few minutes later, Martin knocked in a loose ball, but an offside penalty negated the goal. Still, Martin was making the most of the starting position.
“Reilly’s just a dangerous forward,” Ryan said. “Anywhere around the net, she lights it up.”
San Diego didn’t often make it past midfield during the first half, as Michigan dominated the possession game. The backline took its time to advance the ball and played a smart passing game, making it easy for senior defender Christina Murillo to squander each Torero counterattack. Freshman Abby Kastroll also helped control the midfield by taking a few heavy hits in order to gain possession or clear the ball.
The intensity continued heading into the second half, as Michigan fired off four shots and earned two corners within the first seven minutes leading up to when Waldeck was dragged down in the penalty box and Martin notched the go-ahead.
“(San Diego) torched us (last season),” Ryan said. “I didn’t foresee that we were gonna play as well as we did tonight. We had so much of the game, so much possession, tons of great chances, enough corner kicks to win six games.”
Four minutes later, Murillo served a free kick to Waldeck, who launched the ball from outside the 18-yard box. The ball banked off the far left post and into the net for Waldeck’s first goal of the season.
“It’s good to see Nicky hit the back of the net,” Ryan said. “If we can just keep Nicky feeling good about finishing, we all know what she can do.”
After the second goal, Ryan knew it would get ugly when the Toreros posted four forwards instead of two against the Wolverines’ back line. The change allowed San Diego to finally get a shot off 62 minutes into the game.
A minute later, Michigan failed to clear the ball and midfielder Jacqueline Altschuld launched a shot past sophomore goalie Megan Hinz.
The four-player backline played all 90 minutes, so it was only natural that the Wolverines showed signs of fatigue in the second half. But according to Ryan, there was nothing he could do to fix it.
“Anytime nine players play 90 minutes at that level of intensity, you’re gonna get tired,” Ryan said. “At that point in that game, you’re not gonna sub people in. You’re just gonna go with the people that get it done.”
In Ryan’s eyes, Reilly Martin is one of those players who can get the job done. Helping to lead Michigan’s versatile offense early in her career, she proved that her first start wouldn’t be her last.