With 34 minutes on the clock in the Michigan women’s soccer team’s Oct. 8 contest against Northwestern, Michigan senior midfielder Corinne Harris rocketed a shot into the back of the net from 25 yards out. It proved to be the decisive moment in a 1-0 victory for the Wolverines.
The score line could have been worse for the Wildcats (7-3-1 Big Ten, 13-4-2 overall), who were lucky to have finished the 90 minutes only a goal down, as Michigan failed to convert many of the chances it created.
Now the two are set to lock horns once again in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals this Sunday in Wilmette. The Wolverines (6-3-2 Big Ten, 11-6-2 overall) will be looking to pull off a performance much like the one they gave in October.
“If we play the way we did last game, we should be fine,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “We’ve been organized defensively for most of the year, and if we can do that again, we’ll been successful. We just need to take our chances.”
However, since that loss in Ann Arbor, Northwestern has won four out of its last five games, scoring nine goals and conceding just two in the process. Michigan, on the other hand, hasn’t been nearly as stellar in that stretch, with a 2-2-1 record.
The Wolverines’ last game was their 3-1 loss to No. 10 Penn State, a game defined by a seven-minute onslaught that saw Michigan sophomore goalkeeper Megan Hinz pick the ball out of her net three times. Senior midfielder Cassie Collins grabbed a late consolation goal, but it was a case of too little, too late for the Wolverines.
“The (Penn State) game will be extra motivation to maintain focus and discipline,” Ryan said. “We played well in the beginning, but it was just that seven-minute collapse that defined the game, and we paid for it.”
The Wolverines finished the regular season fifth in the Big Ten standings, but the Wildcats were able to finish one spot higher given their recent success. That’s concerning news for Michigan, as its home record tells a completely different story from its away record.
With only one loss at home all season, the Wolverines’ dominance in Ann Arbor is apparent. But a 1-5-2 record on the road shows just how much they struggle when not playing on familiar ground.
Michigan started this season playing a 4-3-3 formation that utilized its wingers and fullbacks to spread play, widening the field and creating space in the middle. For the most part, this has remained the trademark of the Wolverines' style this season.
The pitch in Wilmette is smaller than the one in Ann Arbor, and the turf is quite different as well, which plays a big role when moving the ball around the field.
“It’s a different type of game,” Ryan said. “The turf we’re playing on is very narrow and a different field entirely. I expect it to change the game a lot.
“It’s a field that we aren’t used to. It’s one that Northwestern aren’t used to. We love to spread the field in play. It’s going to be much more difficult to do that. It’ll be a very different game from the one that we saw last time out.”
Michigan will rely on its star forwards, sophomores Ani Sarkisian and Taylor Timko, who have scored seven goals each. They will need to be sharp, considering that Northwestern has only allowed 10 goals this season.
In what looks to be an extremely well-matched game in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, the importance isn’t lost on the Wolverines.
“At this point, we’re just looking for a chance to move on in the Big Ten Tournament,” Ryan said. “It’s a must-win game, especially if we want to move onto the NCAA Tournament. It’ll definitely be a battle.”