By Jake Lourim, For the Daily
Published August 25, 2013
Michigan’s first game-winning goal didn’t come from one of its four returning All-Big Ten players. True freshman Nicky Waldeck hadn’t even suited up in a Wolverine uniform until preseason games started last week.
But sometimes, goals come from the most unlikely places.
Waldeck’s 61st-minute goal from senior defenseman Shelina Zadorsky helped lead the No. 19 Michigan women's soccer team to a 3-0 home win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the season opener Friday night.
The true freshman was stunned after the game by her first career goal.
“The players I’m playing with are absolutely incredible,” Waldeck said. “Just being on the field is mind-blowing. I’m shocked every time I play with them.”
A UWM handball gave Michigan a free kick from just outside the box in the second half. Zadorsky served it into the box for Waldeck, who placed a header inside the right post.
“I was impressed with her all night,” Michigan coach Greg Ryan said. “You look and you see which players are really on their game and try to play them more.”
Michigan’s experienced returners took it from there after recovering from a slow start.
“I have so much faith in our back four,” Waldeck said. “There were definitely times when we were worrying — it was 0-0 for a long time. Honestly, this is the best finishing team we’ve had in so long. We never really lost confidence. We didn’t want to quit.”
Senior Nkem Ezurike — who scored four times in two exhibition matches — broke loose on a long run and scored in the 71st minute off an assist from Zadorsky. Ezurike is now only nine goals shy of breaking the school record for career goals.
“Nkem is so strong and so fast, at some moment in the game she’s just going to be too much for the opponent,” Ryan said.
Just two minutes later, Ezurike passed the ball to sophomore Christina Ordonez on the right flank, who hooked a shot past the goalkeeper inside the left post.
Waldeck, a freshman from Chicago, had an assist and a shot on goal in 65 minutes of exhibition action. In one practice less than a month into her career as a Wolverine, Waldeck scored a goal against Ryan himself off of a header.
“I thought it was going to take Nicky her first year to really get on track, because she hadn’t played high-level club,” Ryan said. “She is just a natural.”
Until Waldeck's tally, Michigan had struggled to put it together offensively, managing just two shots on goal. Waldeck’s composure gave Michigan its first goal, and the Wolverines loosened up from there.
“We feel like we can just wear teams down,” Ryan said. “[Milwaukee] hung in there really well, and they made us score good goals to win this game.”
Ryan said Michigan’s depth kept up the energy in the game into the second half, especially with freshmen Madisson Lewis, Anna Soccorsi and Waldeck off the bench.
“They bring an energy that helps us turn the tide in the game,” Ryan said. “I’d say if we only had 11 players that played tonight, maybe we’re looking at a 0-0 draw.”
The three-goal effort was backed by another strong performance from Michigan’s back line. Freshman goalie Taylor Bucklin and an experienced defense led by senior captains Holly Hein and Zadorsky did not allow a shot on goal.
“Our defense has been a big focus in practice this week,” Hein said. “We wanted to make sure that we kept it secure and held it down back there. We wanted to make sure we weren’t beating ourselves and putting ourselves in a hole.”
At times during the game, left back Zadorsky and center back Olivia Brannon would switch to cover for one another. Ryan is confident that both can play either position.
“Our back line is very versatile,” Hein said. “We’re playing with, essentially, four center backs. Any of us can go and shift wide, and it’s not really an issue. It’s great for us that we can get anyone forward at any time. It makes us more dangerous.”
According to Ryan, Zadorsky was bothered by a calf cramp after the game, but the coach expected her to be ready for Sunday’s game.
With only one day off until its next game, Ryan will rely on what he calls his fittest college team ever to continue the momentum. He played 20 players Friday.
“For us to not have to have the same 11 on the field the whole 90 minutes really puts us ahead of a lot of other teams,” Hein said. “It allows us to maintain our pressure going forward and just keep them under pressure the whole time.”