A hard-fought scoreless battle going into the second half put the third-seeded Michigan women’s soccer team in a familiar position.
Sunday’s match against fourth-seeded Penn State (15-6-1 overall, 8-3-0 Big Ten) mirrored the Wolverines’ (15-5-1, 8-2-1) semifinal win two days earlier. In an overtime battle, the narrative was similar but the result was not, as the Wolverines fell to Penn State, 2-1, in the Big Ten Championship game.
The elation of an overtime outcome was for Penn State to enjoy.
The 82nd minute alone made up for 81 minutes of a lackluster game. The 0-0 deadlock changed within the span of 40 seconds. In a somewhat controversial call, Penn State committed an own goal when sophomore midfielder Raleigh Loughman passed from the left side into the middle. Intended for redshirt senior defender Sura Yekka, the pass ricocheted off midfielder Payton Linnehan’s foot into the goal. The goal was initially called back for offsides, but after review, Michigan was on the board.
The Wolverines did not hold the 1-0 lead for long when, 40 seconds later, sophomore midfielder Skylar Anderson was called for a foul. This set up a penalty kick for midfielder Sam Coffey. The outstretched hands of junior goalkeeper Hillary Beall just missed the ball.
Michigan’s lead was gone, and the game was, once again, tied.
For the second time in three days, Michigan was headed to overtime tied 1-1. Once again, all the action happened within a few seconds. In a beautifully developed play, Loughman passed the ball into the middle, putting junior midfielder Sarah Stratigakis in perfect position for a header — landing just wide of the goal.
The Nittany Lions took this miss immediately down the field, where Linnehan looked to avenge her own goal, finding herself alone in front of the net. Beall was aggressive and came out of the goal to try and steal the ball. Linnehan chipped the ball over Beall’s head for the game-winner.
“(It was) two very good teams very organized and disciplined,” said Michigan coach Jennifer Klein. “You just got to handle the ebbs and flows of the game, and I thought the team handled it well. Towards the end of regulation, I thought we got a little bit flustered. We regained our composure and they just got an opportunity and they took advantage of it.”
Playing overtime in two consecutive games is no easy feat, but Klein believes her team was not overworked.
During the first half, neither team could take advantage as they shared the time of possession and were even with seven shots.
The Wolverines then came out of halftime strong and controlled the ball for the beginning of the half. The defense helped by making a few big stops. Klein made a personnel change to help her defense, shifting junior midfielder Nicki Hernandez to center back. Hernandez made an impact in all facets of the game, taking two of the team’s 14 shots.
“One of the best qualities about Nicki is her work rate on both sides of the ball,” Klein said. “She has a great defensive presence so we made the switch.”
Beall’s play was pivotal in making the game as close as it was. The goals were tied for the most she has allowed this season, but her five incredible saves bailed the Wolverines out on multiple occasions.
“I think she really made some unbelievable saves and was just a bit unfortunate for the goal at the end,” Klein said. “I’ve just been so proud of her throughout the season and the growth that she’s had at her time here at Michigan.”
The Wolverines suffered a minor set back in the 28th minute when sophomore midfielder Meredith Haakenson was subbed out after an apparent ankle injury. Haakenson returned in the 75th minute.
Their inclusion in the NCAA Tournament is all but guaranteed, merely awaiting their location and opponent. The Wolverines will find out their postseason fate during the selection show on Monday.
If you look back as little as two years ago, Michigan was in a very different place.
“This year I asked them what makes it Michigan,” Klein said. “They established the habits of what we want this culture and program to be. They’ve done the work to be a team that is competing for championships. Hopefully, it will carry through the NCAAs.”