Anna Spieker had one save to make to keep Michigan’s season alive.
The junior goaltender had stood on her head for the Wolverines all afternoon in their semifinal matchup against 3-seeded Louisville. But in the sixth round of a shootout of a 1-1 game, all the saves she had made to that point paled in importance to her next one.
Spieker jogged out to face Cardinals forward Meghan Schneider, who was bearing down on the goal. She stayed with Schneider as she went left, dropped to her knees and cut off her angle, forcing the shot wide.
With that save, she set up Michigan to score the game winner on the following shot, defeating Louisville 2-1 and advancing to its first national championship game since 2001.
“She has had a tremendous year,” Michigan coach Marcia Pankratz said. “This year she’s starting to make the spectacular saves, which really you need when you’re getting to the best teams in the country and getting to the national championship game.”
Spieker has been the backbone of the Wolverines all season, allowing just 7 goals the entire year. She also boasts the second-highest save percentage in the country at 0.883. On Friday, she turned aside all but one of the Cardinals’ six shots on goal.
“She’s just a brick wall, has been all season,” junior fullback Katie Anderson said. “I wouldn’t want any other goalie to be back there at all.”
Offense was hard to come by for both teams. Michigan mustered just three shots on goal the entire game and struggled to establish scoring opportunities, but grabbed a 1-0 lead late in the third on a rocket from freshman midfielder Anouk Veen. Through three quarters, Spieker didn’t face many challenges, as Louisville only had one shot on goal.
In the fourth quarter, though, the tides changed.
The Cardinals had a barrage of chances and spent most of the fourth quarter on the Michigan side of the field. Louisville had five penalty corners but Spieker was unfazed. She stifled the Cardinals’ attackers — directing the defense and calmly blocking shots. The Wolverines continued to cling to their one-goal lead.
But Louisville finally had a breakthrough on its sixth penalty corner of the quarter. A roaring shot beat Spieker to her right and tied the game at one with just 1:18 left on the clock. The late-game dramatics could have sunk Michigan, but Spieker refused to let the goal shatter her confidence.
“She’s always been poised, she just keeps her emotions in check,” Pankratz said. “It’s not easy to get scored on the last minute in a big game like that and to be able to keep it together and still perform, so I couldn’t be more proud.”
In overtime, Spieker continued to stonewall Louisville but the Wolverines once again failed to reward her stellar play on the offensive end. After 80 minutes of game action, the teams were still deadlocked and a penalty shootout would be needed to decide who would advance to the championship game.
Entering the shootout, Michigan liked its chances with Spieker in net.
“I’m so confident in her,” Anderson said. “I think the whole team is confident in her.”
After allowing the first player to score, Spieker saved the next two Cardinals shots and had them on the ropes. After Louisville battled back to tie the shootout at 3-3, the game again rested on Spieker’s shoulders. And as she did all game — and all season — she got the save.
Spieker’s efforts fueled the Wolverines’ victory, and without her they may have been walking off the field in defeat. On Sunday, though, they’ll need her to be even better. Michigan is up against a juggernaut in North Carolina — which has won the last two national championships and only lost one game in three years.
It’s a difficult matchup, but with Spieker the Wolverines have a chance. And if she can turn in one more special performance, they may be coming back to Ann Arbor with a national championship trophy.