When sophomore midfielder Kayla Reed collapsed in a heap and laid on the ground after taking a ball to the side of the head, the entire crowd held its breath – right until she got up.
“Kayla’s a warrior,” said Wolverines coach Marcia Pankratz. “She’s a tough player and she’s experienced and smart. It doesn’t surprise me that that would happen.”
Reed quickly recovered, and on the very next play received a pass on the right sideline, deked the Northwestern (7-5 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) defender along the baseline and passed the ball right in front of the net to Michigan’s second leading scorer, Meg Dowthwaite. The junior midfielder scored the Wolverines’ (7-4, 3-1) first goal of the evening en route to a 3-2 victory.
“We’ve been working, actually, in practice around baseline carries,” Dowthwaite said. “It was a great ball from Kayla and I was just lucky that I was in the right position at the right time.”
The game started off slow for Michigan, which failed to garner any scoring opportunities while the Wildcats had four in the first 20 minutes of the game. Freshman goalkeeper Anna Spieker had a couple of big saves on the second of Northwestern’s three penalty corners, twice using her right blocker to knock the ball away.
On the third corner, however, Spieker and the Wolverines were not as lucky as an elevated Wildcats shot snuck its way into the upper net.
“(Spieker’s) so young but very experienced and poised, skilled, makes good decisions,” Pankratz said. “I think the team trusts her back there and she keeps us in the game each day and we love having her defending our goal.”
Mere minutes later, junior midfielder Fay Keijer zigzagged her way through the Wildcat defense and fired a backhanded shot that bounced off the Northwestern goalkeeper and landed in the top corner. The goal gave Michigan a 2-1 lead with only 1:30 left in the first half.
From there, the Wolverines never relinquished their lead and carried the momentum the rest of the game.
“The mark of this team, Team 46 this year, is that we really stay steady and play 70 minutes,” Pankratz said. “We don’t let the momentum switch too much and so they stay focused and keep working hard. I think that was evident in getting the goal back right away.”
For the majority of the second half, Michigan dominated the ball and maintained possession. Just five minutes in, senior forward Emma Way extended the Wolverines’ lead to two.
Michigan racked up seven shots in the half compared to just two shots from the Wildcats, both of which came off rare mistakes.
Michigan’s first error came 15 minutes into the half. An errant pass led to a one-on-one opportunity for Northwestern junior Saar De Breij between her and Spieker. De Breij won the battle as she smoothly dribbled around the young goaltender and cut the deficit to one goal.
Then, with only 8:42 remaining, Reed was awarded a potentially costly green card and the Wildcats were given an opportunity to tie up the game. Even being down a player, though, the Michigan defense was stout and staved off any true Northwestern scoring opportunities.
“We slipped up a few times here and there, but I’m really proud of the girls for staying in it,” Reed said. “It’s not easy having a one goal lead, it’s a hard position to be in, but I thought we handled it really well.”
No matter the way in which they got there, the Wolverines ended the night with a victory over a highly-ranked opponent.
“Anytime you can beat a Big Ten opponent we’re thrilled,” Pankratz said. “We’re working on a very particular kind of tactic and we’re trying to transfer with some good midfield passing.
“I thought, when we did that today, we were super successful and I was happy about being able to grow from that and take that into the next couple of games.”