Reserves play key role for Wolverines, McCombs’ status uncertain

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By Steven Braid, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 12, 2012

Entering the 2012 season, it was no secret that one of the most valuable assets the Michigan women’s soccer team possessed was its depth.

Michigan coach Greg Ryan frequently said he was looking forward to playing 17 or 18 players every game, trying to take advantage of his deep bench as much as possible.

“I think we are going to be able to run teams off the park because we’ve got so much talent and so much depth,” Ryan said in early September. “We’re talented and fast and skillful at every position.”

And against Central Michigan on Saturday, the importance of the bench to the Wolverines’ success could not have been clear. Though Ryan didn’t play 18 players — he played just 14 — the depth enabled Michigan to control the tempo of the game. The reserves offered Ryan an opportunity to play fresh legs at all times without compromising the team’s ability on the field.

“I think we wore Central (Michigan) out with the depth and the players coming off the bench,” Ryan said after Michigan’s 2-1 victory against the Chippewas. “Corinne Harris, I thought, had a fantastic game coming off the bench and (so did junior forward) Shelby (Chambers-Garcia) coming off the bench.”

The bench aggressively attacked Central Michigan all match. Chambers-Garcia, Harris, senior midfielder Emily Jaffe and freshman defenseman Sydney Raguse combined for six shots and an assist in 181 minutes off the bench, opposed to the Chippewa reserves, who contributed just one shot in 109 minutes.

And in the extra period, it was play from the reserves that created scoring opportunities and set up the victory. Just minutes into overtime, Jaffe dribbled deep into Central Michigan territory to set up Ezurike for an easy game-winning score.

“I’ve got to give credit to our players that came off the bench,” Ryan said. “Our depth tonight was huge.”

SCARY MOMENT: Early in the second half, junior midfielder Tori McCombs went up for a header on the Wolverines’ side of the pitch in what turned out to be a scary moment for Michigan. Contesting a header, the do-everything midfielder collided with Central Michigan defender Emily Baston in mid-air, causing both players to hit the ground.

Though McCombs lay motionless for a moment, she was able to walk off the field under her own power.

“If you review the film, it was a horrific play, where she headed the ball past and a player hit her in the head,” Ryan said.

McCombs, who made her ninth start of the season and first since a 3-0 victory against Indiana on Sept. 15, played just 27 minutes before exiting the contest. The injury sidelined her for the rest of the match, and her health will be monitored on a day-to-day basis before the team’s second-round matchup against Portland in State College.

“She wasn’t able to go back in the game which means the trainer was concerned that she has a concussion because you can’t risk taking two concussions one after another,” Ryan said. “So, we had to leave Tori off and we just got to play it by ear.”

GOING STREAKING: Junior forward Nkem Ezurike has had plenty of stretches of dominance throughout her career. In 2011, she scored seven consecutive goals for the Wolverines during an eight-game stretch, and earlier this season, she notched five scores over a three-game span.

But she has never been this hot. With her game-winning tally in Michigan’s victory against Central Michigan, Ezurike tied a program record for most consecutive games with a score, notching a goal in her sixth straight match.

“(Senior midfielder Emily) Jaffe got the ball and she took players on, and it was her hard work that got the goal,” Ezurike said of her game-clinching score. “She did well taking on the (defenders) and the shot just rebounded and it was an easy tap-in.”

Ezurike ties a record set by Therese Heaton (2004) and Abby Crumpton (2001). Her 14 tallies in 2012 rank third for most goals in a season, and are four shy of the record set by Amber Berendowsky (1997).

But Ezurike wasn’t the only Wolverine to move up in the record books on Saturday. Fifth-year senior goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer became the all-time leader in minutes played by a goalie with 7,008. She surpassed Megan Tuura’s record of 6,961 minutes, which had stood since 2006.