Starting with a lede about the weather is just as cringe-worthy in the journalistic world as it is during small talk. However, this game necessitated an exception to the rule.
There was obvious concern that the snow would pose a challenge for Michigan men’s soccer (12-5-3) on Thursday night, as they took on the Princeton Tigers (10-5-3) in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“(The snow) played the biggest role ever, in any college game I’ve ever coached. It made it very difficult for our team to try to play and connect passes,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley.
The challenge of a slippery field was matched only by the frosty relations between the players. A whopping eight yellow cards were drawn (six belonging to Michigan), but seeing as the outcome is either advance or face elimination, the physicality seemed warranted.
“Everyone’s fighting for absolutely everything. Every inch, every throw, every call,” Daley said. “It’s hard for both teams when you realize it’s win or go home.”
The blanket of snow amplified the noise of the crowd, where an unexpectedly large gathering of Princeton fans made no secret of their grievances with the referee, Collin Radosav.
“The ref’s on your team, pass it to him,” one fan said.
“I know it’s your son, but still…” another added when the referee let Michigan off with a warning.
It wasn’t just the crowd getting involved, either. Words and shoves were exchanged more than once between players on both sides.
Watching it, you would think the matchup stemmed from a storied school rivalry. But actually, it’s the first time the Wolverines have faced the Tigers in program history.
After double-overtime failed to produce a victor, reality set in: this game would be determined by penalty kicks. Just the goalie and the shooter. The thought didn’t sit too well with sophomore goalkeeper — and Florida native — Henry Mashburn.
“…I’ve never played in the snow before; it was my first time. I cannot explain to you in words what happened out there with the ball. What I can say is that it’s a completely different game from what I’m used to.”
Mashburn held his ground, though, in the end overcoming the conditions on the field to save three shots after 14 rounds of penalty kicks for the win.
The Wolverines will face Notre Dame in the second round, a team to whom they lost in their last matchup on Oct. 16. Senior forward Noah Kleedtke is confident in his team, though.
“I think we’re gonna go in there, take care of business, and advance even more.”
Weather permitting, of course.