Last November, in Piscataway, N. J., the third-ranked Michigan women’s soccer team upset a then undefeated Rutgers team to claim the title of Big Ten tournament champions. This time around, eleven months later, a win means something different.
On Thursday, back in Ann Arbor and meeting for the first time since that championship match, the Wolverines (7-7-3 overall, 2-5-2 Big Ten) upset the Scarlet Knights (13-1-3, 5-1-3) once again. In a season where Michigan failed to capture the magic and success of last season, upsetting Rutgers 3-2 holds new meaning and small glimpse at what this season could have been.
“We’ve known that we’re a team capable of much more than our results have shown,” Michigan coach Jennifer Klein said. “So tonight was about us getting ourselves on the right side of a result.”
On the stat sheet, Rutgers clears Michigan in every category: more conference wins, a higher rank and a winning record in previous matchups against the Wolverines. This showed in the first half when its top ten offense controlled possession for nearly the entire half.
Less than two minutes into the game, midfielder Sam Kroeger picked off a pass in the midfield and crossed the ball into the box. The end of Kroeger’s cross was met by midfielder Sara Brocious’s boot, hammering it into the back of the Wolverines’ net. Just seven minutes later, Scarlet Knight forward Riley Tiernan skillfully moved the ball into the box and finished with her left foot into the bottom right corner, staking them to a 2-0 lead.
Michigan’s players struggled on the field, second to most balls and showing very little aggression. As Rutgers dominated the first 45 minutes of the game, half time could not have come soon enough for the Wolverines.
At the start of the second half, a new Michigan team appeared on the field. Putting high pressure on the Scarlet Knights’ midfield, the Wolverines began to create more scoring opportunities. Michigan senior forward Lily Farkas battled for the ball down the left sideline in the attacking third and was eventually awarded a free kick.
Junior midfielder Sarah Bridenstine blasted the ball off the free kick into the box where it took a lucky bounce past the Rutgers goalie and into the back of the net. The momentum continued for the Wolverines as their hard work continued to create scoring chances. Eventually, the Scarlet Knights defense collapsed when Michigan junior forward Kacey Lawrence sliced a ball through the Rutgers defensive line to freshman midfielder Jenna Lang who tapped it into the lower left corner.
Less than three minutes later, Lawrence and Lang connected again on an almost identical play.
“Being a freshman, I think that helped my confidence a lot” Lang said. “I think it helped the team’s confidence with previous games. Celebrating with my team, it’s just a great feeling. Not only was it cool for myself to achieve that, but just a great team win.”
A stunned Rutgers team resorted to fouling for the last ten minutes of the game, awarding Michigan with a plethora of free kicks and allowing them to keep possession of the ball for the remainder of the game.
In a season where Michigan has struggled to see positive results, especially against ranked opponents, this was a meaningful victory for both Klein and her team.
“It just was about us staying positive and just believing no matter what situation we got ourselves in, if we just take it one step at a time, you give yourself the opportunity to win” Klein said.