It took just under two minutes for the Michigan women’s soccer team to start scoring in last year’s win over No. 13 Washington State. Senior midfielder Sarah Stratigakis, then a junior, raced Cougar goalkeeper Ella Dederick to the ball and lofted it toward the net. Leaning down like a golfer watching a putt, she willed the ball into the goal as it bounced just inside the crossbar.
What proved to be a turning point in the Wolverines’ 2019 season was also a showcase of why Stratigakis and sophomore outside back Jayde Riviere were chosen to represent Canada in the SheBelieves Cup this month. Both blend speed, creativity and technical skills to make themselves headaches for opponents. Their temporary absence, though, means other Wolverines need to fill their cleats.
“What’s great about (Stratigakis) in those moments is she’s able to step up in a moment that the team needs her to and finds a way to score a goal,” Michigan coach Jennifer Klein said.
But while that talent will help the Canadians, the Wolverines need to adapt in order to win the first two games of the 2021 season which starts Saturday. Michigan’s depth will team up to do that job.
Last year, that depth helped make Stratigakis so successful. A set piece from the right side gave the Wolverines an offensive chance as junior midfielder Raleigh Loughman put the ball within Stratigakis’ range for her goal against Washington State.
At first glance, you might miss the way Riviere adapted to her teammate’s offensive commitment. She shifted back, clogging a lane filled with Cougars to block a potential counterattack. The move showed her trust in the offense to get the job done.
You also might miss how then-sophomore midfielder Meredith Haakenson repaired the broken Michigan formation with a jog toward the penalty arc. Her eyes never came off the ball as she shut down any thought of an attack.
Stratigakis sprinted full tilt to the ball, eyeing the incoming goalkeeper. One defender watched her take control, unable to stop the chance. The other tried to catch up, losing ground in just the two seconds it took for the Wolverines to maintain control. At that point, it was a showdown between Stratigakis and Dederick, the winningest keeper in Washington State’s history.
“(Stratigakis) has great awareness of what’s going on around her,” Michigan assistant coach Katie Hultin said, remembering the goal because it came against her alma mater. “She snuck in behind and then great vision saw the goalkeeper coming out and just put the ball away.”
The ball bounced to the front corner of the box as Dederick challenged, an almost invisible trace of hesitation giving Stratigakis all the room she needed. She shot the ball in an arc above the keeper as Dederick raised her arms to defend. Washington State tried to stop the ball, but it was far too late. A sea of white jerseys surrounded Stratigakis as the Wolverines celebrated.
Those natural reads prove invaluable for Michigan, a cushion to soften any opposing blows. The Wolverines depth will have to provide that padding in the games the Canadians miss.
Stratigakis was far from the only stand out of that game. Loughman earned an assist on Stratigakis’s goal, while Haakenson scored her own a couple of minutes later. Both tied for second in Michigan scoring last season.
But, now, other faces need to shoulder some of the defensive load. Riviere’s open position will give the roster an opportunity to knock off dust and take more responsibility.
“We’ve got a lot of depth at outside back,” Hultin said. “If Jayde (Riviere) were here, those players would get time as well. We really want to make sure that we rotate players in those positions.”
Junior defender Janiece Joyner and sophomore left-back Lauren Brideau will see more time in the defensive cycle. Up front, sophomore forward Hannah Blake and freshman forward Sammi Woods will look to make up any missing offensive production from Stratigakis’s spot at midfield.
Stratigakis and Riviere will eventually return to making plays like they did in Pullman, Wash. The Wolverines expect their stars to be back against Wisconsin on Mar. 1, a contest with added meaning as it was one of Michigan’s two conference losses last season.
The return of the Canadians could be crucial in that contest, coming in unscouted and fresh off their stint with the national team. They will only need to get reacclimated to the college game, letting energy like they had last season drive their early play.
But while Stratigakis and Riviere answer a higher responsibility, the Wolverines will have to call on other players to step up. It’s a symptom of recruiting success that some teams dream about.
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