In practice Friday, the Michigan women’s soccer team didn’t make a single one of its penalty kicks.
Luckily for the Wolverines, Sunday was a new day.
Michigan (6-3-2 Big Ten, 11-4-3 overall) made all four penalty kicks against Wisconsin (8-5-7) to pave its way to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals Friday against top-seeded Minnesota.
“We’ve been practicing (penalty kicks) all season because we knew it could go into this,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “Especially the last few days we’ve been doing a penalty kick contest.”
The last time the two teams met, on Oct. 13, the game ended in a 1-1 draw, with the Badgers scoring first and the Wolverines scoring later on in the game to force the tie. On Sunday, Michigan drew first blood. In the 20th minute, sophomore forward Reilly Martin turned on her defender, accelerated down the right flank and sent in a cross. Senior forward Nicky Waldeck met the cross in the air, heading home her eighth goal of the season.
But it didn’t take long for the Badgers to equalize, finally turning their overwhelming possession in the final third into a goal. Wisconsin defender Payton Wesley gathered the ball on the right end line and crossed it into the middle toward her teammate, forward Emily Borgmann, who finished the chance cooly.
From there, both sides sputtered on offense, with chances few and far between. Neither side controlled the flow of the ball in the midfield, and both relied heavily on long through passes to forwards making runs.
“I thought we were off our game for a good portion of (the game),” Ryan said. “But it was just a game where we just had to fight. It’s just a gritty performance.”
Ryan attributes much of that struggle to the challenge the Badgers presented, while simultaneously crediting his defense — and its 3-4-3 formation — for negating Wisconsin’s attack.
“They’re a very good defending team,” Ryan said. “They play that tight diamond in midfield, and it’s very hard to play in behind them. … (The formation) allowed us to at least get pressure on almost all of their players on the field, and I think that was causing them problems.”
Despite the stalemate, the Wolverines earned a corner kick in the final 10 seconds, with a chance to snatch a dramatic victory. As the clock wound down, the ball found the feet of junior midfielder Ani Sarkisian in a crowded box, who sent in a shot that was narrowly tipped over the crossbar.
Neither overtime period was enough to decide the victor. Unlike the draw two weeks ago, Michigan and Wisconsin headed to penalty kicks to decide which team would advance to the conference tournament semifinal.
And redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Jackson ensured that spot would belong to the Wolverines, despite an unconventional strategy to do so.
“I have a really bad strategy (for penalty kicks),” Jackson said. “I told my coach I always dive to the right.”
After seeing the first Badgers’ shot find the crossbar, Jackson knew one stop would all but secure the win.
In Wisconsin’s second attempt, Jackson decided to dive to her left, and reaped the benefits — knocking away the line-drive attempt that seemed destined for the corner of the net.
The Wolverines converted each attempt, winning the penalty shootout, 4-2, and sealing the matchup with Minnesota on Friday.
And if that matchup reaches penalty kicks, Jackson may just decide to dive left more often.