Sarah Jackson picked the ball out of the net and disgustedly punted it to midfield. The redshirt sophomore goalkeeper’s response to Minnesota’s game-winning goal was a summary of the Michigan women’s soccer team’s frustration the entire match.
The fourth-seeded Wolverines (6-3-2 Big Ten, 10-5-4 overall) were outplayed by the top-seeded Golden Gophers (7-1-3, 15-3-3), losing 1-0 in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals Friday in St. Paul, Minn.
Forward Julianna Gernes scored the lone goal for Minnesota, as she buried an attempt into a wide-open net off a rebound from midfielder Josee Stiever’s shot that drew post in the seventh minute. Gernes was the beneficiary of a Golden Gopher attack that rarely gave the Wolverine defense a rest in the first half. It was a Michigan turnover just outside the box that lead to the 3-on-2 scoring-chance for Minnesota.
“We gave away a silly goal — it was just so horrific,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “You can’t give up those kinds of goals. Those are layups. We talked about not beating ourselves before the match, but we beat ourselves on that play.”
As the Wolverines found themselves with just 45 minutes to equalize, Ryan attempted to orchestrate a more offensively threatening formation by positioning his players higher up on the field. That desperation also contributed to a more physical style of play — Michigan committed seven fouls in the final frame.
But the formation and tenacity proved futile on the scoresheet, as the Wolverines were able to muster just two shots on net in the second half, leading to Gopher goalkeeper Sarah Hobbs’ 10th clean slate of the season.
“At the end of the day, (Minnesota) got a couple good looks on goal, and we didn’t get any — that was the difference,” Ryan said.
Michigan’s best scoring opportunity came during the game’s first minute, when junior Ani Sarkisian cut quickly upfield and blasted a shot off a Minnesota defender and out of bounds, resulting in a Wolverine corner. But the nerves of the heavyweight Minnesota club settled following Michigan’s initial rush — the Golden Gophers’ aggressive play led to their possession and shot domination in the opening frame.
With the loss, the Wolverines will have their NCAA Tournament fate determined by the selection committee for the third consecutive year, as Michigan hopes to hear its name called for an at-large selection on Monday. But after two consecutive years without a postseason berth despite respectable seasons, Ryan doesn’t have much confidence in the selection committee’s inclination to give the Wolverines their fourth appearance under the current head man.
“Based upon what the NCAA has done the last two years, I have no evidence to support that (we’re going to be selected),” Ryan said. “We’ve got three wins against the top 25 and a tie against Minnesota — we’ve never had a better resume to get in. I don’t have a lot of confidence in the committee to figure this out.”
Though the fate of the Wolverines’ season is still in question, Michigan plans on practicing Monday as if it indeed has a place in the NCAA tournament. If Ryan’s team gets selected and breaks its two-year postseason drought, maybe practice will consist of Jackson launching a punt in triumphant joy rather than frustration.