The Michigan women’s soccer team’s defense has been suffocating all season long.
Through it’s first 17 games, it was tied for first in the Big Ten for the least amount of goals allowed, and during a road trip earlier in the season, the unit held in check two of the top five scorers in the Big Ten — Nebraska’s Morgan Marlborough and Iowa’s Cloe Lacasse.
But against No. 9 Penn State, the Wolverines’ defense was in trouble before they even stepped onto the field.
Playing against the second-highest scoring offense in the nation, the Wolverines appeared overmatched by a Nittany Lion squad that had netted 50 goals in 18 games entering the matchup.
“I felt like the defensive planning was good and the execution was good,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “They didn’t get a lot of great chances, but the great chances that they got, they put away.”
With redshirt junior goalie Haley Kopmeyer anchoring the defense, Michigan had allowed less than a goal per game over its last seven contests.
But despite its best effort, Michigan could only hold off Penn State’s aggressive attack until midway through the first half, as the Nittany Lions scored four unanswered goals en route to a resounding 4-0 victory.
Penn State forward Maya Hayes, the nation’s leading scorer, proved to be the catalyst against the Wolverines. Entering Sunday, she had scored in five straight games, notching eight goals during that span.
Hayes wasn’t overly dominant but eventually proved too difficult to contain. She played patiently throughout the match, waiting for the right time to attack. She converted both her shots on goal — she scored off of a rebound during the last minute of the first half and later put the ball in the back of the net in the 60th minute after dribbling by two Michigan defenders.
Those goals gave her 25 total, one more goal than the entire Michigan team combined this season.
“It’s tough to play against a player like (Hayes),” Ryan said. “We shut her down pretty well for most of the game, but a kid like that still ends up with two goals at the end of the day.”
Hayes’s impact was felt beyond her two goals. Her commanding prescence forced Michigan to play multiple defenders on her, opening up the field for her teammates.
In the 22nd minute, she fake-touched a cross from forward Jackie Molinda, momentarily freezing Kopmeyer and senior defender Kristen Goncalves, allowing Penn State forward Taylor Schram an opening in the net for the game’s first goal. Schram’s goal was her 11th of the season, giving her more goals than the Wolverines’ top scorer.
Kopmeyer played as well as she could have. She had five saves, including a diving stop off a penalty kick late in the game. But she couldn’t make the type of impact she has become accustomed to making.
Ryan admitted that Penn State’s offense was nearly unstoppable and that their shots were just too well placed.
“Today, I don’t think (Kopmeyer) had much of any chance on any of the goals,” Ryan said. “The goals today were just inside-pocket goals. Nothing you could do about it.”