The Big Ten Tournament began its first round of play on Sunday night while the Michigan women’s soccer team (7-8-3 Overall, 2-6-2 Big Ten) watched from home on the couch, having finished 11th in the Big Ten. A season that started full of promise ended in shambles as a domino effect of woes sent the Wolverines’ postseason hopes crashing down.
Let’s breakdown the highs and lows:
Junior midfielder Kacey Lawrence proved her place in the starting lineup with her unrelenting energy. In her previous two seasons, Lawrence totaled a combined 787 minutes. This season she notched 1046 minutes, averaging 65.38 minutes per game.
“Ah man, that girl was on fire,” Michigan coach Jen Klein said on Sept. 22 after a draw against Ohio State. “She is such a spark of energy, her ability to go and have one gear. A spark plug that just fires and goes. She brought some unbelievable energy and brought some really good chances for us.”
She was a breath of fresh air constantly rushing up and down the field, but never letting exhaustion slow her down. Although the stat sheet doesn’t show Lawrence as a difference maker, netting just four goals and four assists, her playmaking was invaluable.
The Wolverines had issues finding the back of the net and were shutout or held to one goal in 12 of their 17 matches. But, that wasn’t for a lack of trying by Lawrence, who slotted 25 shots with 14 on goal over the year.
Lawrence’s admirable efforts on the season very well could earn her a captain’s armband for her upcoming senior season.
When senior defender Jayde Riviere announced her collegiate career-ending injury, the Michigan backline looked to be in peril after losing its linchpin.
But the Wolverines’ defense reorganized the platoon and built an outstanding line without their captain, Riviere.
In 14 games Michigan held its opponents to two points or less, and in 10 of those the Wolverines held them to one point or none. And of the three games in which they allowed three goals, two were against top-25 opponents.
That iron clad defense was full of promising underclassman with years of growth ahead of them. Sophomore Tamia Tolbert and freshman Aniyah League proved they can bring stability in the future.
And while the highs were encouraging for Michigan, they were not enough to offset the difficulties of the season.
The Wolverines lit up non-competitive opponents, but that prowess failed to carry over against respectable competitors. Michigan was often stymied, getting shutout in eight games — almost half the season.
Lawrence and seniors Lily Farkas, Sami Woods and Dani Wolfe tried their best to produce chances on net for their team with a constant barrage of shots. The quartet racked up 25, 51, 43 and 21, respectively. What the stat sheet doesn’t show is their relentless lobs, crosses, volleys, and passes through the final third that the Wolverines failed to capitalize on.
“We need to be more consistent in our discipline in (the) details,” Klein said on Sept. 1 after a loss to Iowa State. “I think we have very, very good shiny moments and then we have some moments that we’re just not dialed in.”
And those shiny moments soon shone.
Michigan blew out Boston University, slaughtered Central Michigan and mascaraed Toledo. But those programs weren’t the most elite competitors, as Toledo and Central Michigan combined for an abysmal 4-21-11 record.
The highlight of the season was when the Wolverines upset No. 14 Rutgers, 3-2. However, the rest of their Big Ten conference matchups painted an ugly picture, with Michigan getting shutout seven times and finishing with only two conference wins.
One thing is clear: You can’t win if you don’t score. And Michigan did neither.
Individually, the team was chock full of great players who provided great performances, but it’s a team sport. Graduate Izzy Nino saw significant time between the goal posts for the first time in her Wolverine career. But, the defense and its new leader had trouble meshing. After playing under Hillary Beall for five years there was bound to be an adjustment period.
“As a team we are still forming and figuring out roles and responsibilities,” Klein said Sept. 1. “There’s a little bit of some confusion in there, but we just have to find ways to make it work.”
The 17-game season wasn’t enough for all the puzzles pieces to slide into place.
Michigan’s kryptonite proved to be miscues on both sides of the ball.
Crosses from Farkas were frequently missed by three or four players in the box. On the other side, Nino would often dive for a ball just as League would smash it out of the defensive third. The Wolverines couldn’t grow to function as a cohesive unit.
Follwing Michigan’s worst full season since 2017 — before Klein’s coaching tenure— it’s taken a clear step back. The 2022 season was the first full season in her time at the helm where the Wolverines failed to make the Big Ten Tournament.
The few bright spots from the Wolverines’ less than ideal performance show promise for next season. But, the lows tell a different story. Michigan’s original ranking, No. 9, showed its potential, yet after this year’s performance it’ll go into the 2023 season — most likely — unranked with a lot of question marks.
With a disappointing season in the books, the Wolverines will have to prove themselves next year. They’ll have to prove that this season was a fluke, a misfortune not by design.
For now, it’s back to the drawing boards.