The intensity shift was visible for the women’s soccer team. It was in the hard fouls, the jawing and the takedowns.
After an uninspired performance in a 3-2 loss to Minnesota on Friday, Michigan (1-1-1 Big Ten, 6-2-1 overall) battled Wisconsin to a 0-0 draw in a physical, hard-fought game on Sunday. Sunday’s game resulted in three yellow cards — all in the second half and overtime — but Michigan coach Greg Ryan said he thought five could have been called in the first half alone.
“I was disappointed to see the game turn into a kick-fest,” Ryan said.
After Friday’s loss to Minnesota, Ryan said the team struggled to maintain the same energy level throughout the entire 90 minutes. Sunday’s contest, which included two 10-minute overtime periods, was a complete 180 for Michigan.
“I told them I’ve never seen them work this hard or fight this hard for each other in my four years here,” Ryan said.
Still, all that work resulted in a scoreless tie against the Badgers. Both games this weekend went down to the wire. Minnesota defeated the Wolverines on Friday on a goal in the final minute.
The Golden Gophers generated more than twice as many shots on goal than Michigan, outshooting the Wolverines 22-9. Wisconsin, too, dominated the shots category, getting off 23 to Michigan’s 11.
Ryan said he’s unconcerned about the apparent lack of opportunities, noting that Michigan got better quality scoring opportunities. Redshirt junior forward Clare Stachel said Wisconsin did not have many chances even though their shot total was high.
“We hit the post, I don’t think they ever hit the post,” Stachel said. “From Friday, we just talked about the sense of urgency that you have to have going forward.”
Redshirt junior goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer made 10 saves on the weekend. Seven of those came against Wisconsin, including three big saves in the overtime periods.
“Haley has saved our butts so many times,” Stachel said. “And the same with our back line. Starting with the beginning of the season, they have just meshed so much better together.”
Sophomore forward Nkem Ezurike played the role of igniter for the Wolverine offense. Against Minnesota, Ezurike took advantage of an error by the Minnesota defense for an easy first-half goal. Later that half, she drew a penalty in the box to set up a Stachel penalty-kick goal.
Stachel’s goal gave Michigan a 2-1 lead, but two unanswered Minnesota goals in the second half cost the Wolverines the game.
“I just think we had to defend too long,” Ryan said on Friday. “Up a goal, I don’t think we’re recognizing how high we’ve got to maintain our intensity.”
On sunday, Michigan never had a lead to protect, but it did have some scoring opportunities. In the first half, sophomore midfielder Meghan Toohey redirected a kick into the box that was tipped wide by the Wisconsin keeper. Later in the first overtime period, freshman midfielder Christina Murillo clanged a shot off the crossbar, and Ezurike nearly put the rebound in for a goal.
Stachel sees the tie — against a Wisconsin squad Ryan called the physically toughest in the conference — as a step forward for the young squad.
“We had a great team regrouping and we just brought it up a ton,” Stachel said. “We just had more sense of team, and more of a sense of playing for each other.”