After the offense stole the show for much of the start of the season, it was the Michigan women’s soccer team’s back five that made its presence felt in the Wolverines’ Big Ten opening-weekend sweep.
In Friday night’s 2-0 win against Nebraska and Sunday afternoon’s 1-0 victory against Iowa, Michigan’s defense overwhelmed its opponents from start to finish. Allowing just eight shots against the Cornhuskers and three against the Hawkeyes, the defense managed to keep the ball out of scoring range and produced two impressive shutouts.
Senior captain and defender Christina Murillo deflected the credit for the defense’s stellar performance to Michigan coach Greg Ryan.
“We can give our defensive success to (Ryan),” Murillo said. “He’s been on us to make sure that we didn’t give up easy goals, and we just made it a choice to say that we’re going to get shutouts from now on.”
Instead of accepting the kudos himself, Ryan cited his players’ effort and execution for the team’s success.
“I thought our whole team defending was fantastic,” Ryan said. “We didn’t give Iowa much of anything, and we didn’t give Nebraska very many chances either. We were rock solid in the defending category.”
Another key element of the weekend shutout was the emergence of redshirt freshman goalkeeper Sarah Jackson. After sophomore Megan Hinz gave up two goals to No. 13 Notre Dame in a loss last weekend, Ryan elected to put a new face in the net.
“(Hinz) is having a little bit of a rough spell,” Ryan said. “She’s a fantastic goalkeeper, but sometimes you give a keeper a couple of games to get back on their feet and basically take the pressure off. Sarah’s been very, very good so far. They’re both competing for the No. 1 job, so we’ll just see who’s doing better.”
Against Iowa on Sunday, Jackson made a critical leaping save on a rocket of a shot from 25 yards out in the first half to preserve the existing draw, which later enabled Michigan to score a dramatic 88th-minute game-winning goal.
“That first-half save Sarah had very easily could have gone in,” Ryan said. “She did well to get back to the ball and tip it over the crossbar. That’s a big save, because we were dominating the game and if you go down 1-0, it’s going to be a lot harder to find a goal in the second half.”
Friday against Nebraska, Michigan had no trouble scoring goals, netting two a minute apart in the first 10 minutes of the match. With the defense as locked as it was, that was all the Wolverines needed.
Murillo highlighted the balanced nature of the team after capturing two wins in completely different ways.
“It really demonstrates that we’re a quality team for the full 90 minutes,” Murillo said. “We get the job done, whether it is in the first 10 minutes or the last two minutes.”
With a strong defense, a goalkeeper coming into form and back-to-back wins to open conference play, Michigan has all the pieces in place to challenge for the Big Ten title this season.