With six minutes left on the clock in the second half of extra time, Michigan senior forward Nicky Waldeck rose highest in the box to head home a cross from sophomore midfielder Abby Kastroll. The goal — Waldeck’s third of the night — won the game for the Wolverines, 3-2, and kept their perfect record in the Big Ten intact.
It took 104 minutes of grueling, end-to-end soccer against No. 19 Rutgers (2-1-1 Big Ten, 7-2-2 overall) until Michigan (4-0-0 Big Ten, 8-1-1 overall) emerged victorious.
“Abby put in a great ball,” Waldeck said. “I didn’t do much there, and it just hit me on the head and went in.”
Michigan started the game strong, pressing the Scarlet Knights high up the field, winning the ball back in midfield and spreading play wide. The intense start paid off when, 10 minutes in, senior midfielder Jessica Heifetz won the ball in Rutgers’ half and threaded it to Waldeck, who opened the scoring with a left-footed drive into the bottom right corner of the net from the edge of the box.
After the goal, however, the Wolverines’ hold on the game began to slip, and Rutgers began to prove its quality. The Scarlet Knights capitalized on a poor Michigan clearance in the 26th minute that fell to forward Madison Tiernin, who turned around her defender and curled the ball over Michigan redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Jackson.
The rest of the game flew by with Rutgers dominating the ball, breaking up the Wolverines’ play and bearing down on the Michigan goal.
“They were better tonight in the run of play,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “They pressured us faster, possessing the ball faster, so I was surprised when we scored the winner in the run of play and not a setpiece.”
The Scarlet Knights ended the game with 25 shots, more than doubling the Wolverines’ count of 12. Much of the second half was spent in Michigan’s half, where the Scarlet Knights tested Jackson time and time again, sending her diving left and right. She ended the game with a career-high 10 saves.
“She made those saves look easy,” Ryan said. “She kept us in the game.”
Jackson, who had five clean sheets in her last five games, was disappointed in having that streak come to an end.
“It was a bummer letting in those goals,” Jackson said. “Rutgers had some good quality chances, and it sucks to lose our streak of shutouts. But we came away with the win and that’s what matters.”
Despite how well Jackson played, the Scarlet Knights breached her goal a second time in the 73rd minute. Following a throw-in, they pinged the ball through the Michigan box until it found defender Amanda Visco in space, who smashed it high into the right corner of the net.
Rutgers’ lead lasted just five minutes, though, until the Wolverines — against the run of play — won the ball deep in Scarlet Knight territory. Freshman forward Brooke DeSantis found herself with lots of space on the right and whipped in a low cross for Waldeck. Visco failed to clear the ball, which found an open Waldeck in front of goal. Waldeck made no mistake as she slid the ball into the net, tying the game and sending it into extra time.
“Some games you just get lucky,” Waldeck said. “The bounces fell at my feet, and it was pretty fortunate.”
After the start of extra time started, the Wolverines switched from their usual 4-3-3 formation to a 4-5-1, defending deep in the hope of withstanding another Rutgers onslaught.
“We put five in the midfield,” Ryan said. “I told the girls to get behind the ball, don’t give up a goal and see if we can find something.”
The first half of extra time ended with the score stuck at 2-2, and it looked as though Michigan was playing for a draw. But when the second half started, the Wolverines looked like the same team that dominated the opening exchanges.
Three minutes into the second half of overtime, Waldeck grabbed the golden goal. She ended the day with a perfect hat trick — one goal with her left foot, one with her right foot and one with her head.
“That’s what you want from your striker,” Ryan said. “When you get a chance, take it. Every time the ball fell to her — bang! She scored.”