It’s time for round four in the David versus Goliath challenge, otherwise known as the NCAA Tournament.
After handling No. 3 seed Pepperdine 2-0 Saturday, the Michigan women’s soccer team travels to Santa Clara, Calif. this weekend to take on the fifth-seeded Broncos of Santa Clara in quarterfinal action of the NCAA Tournament.
Although the Broncos are seeded lower than the Waves, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Santa Clara (18-4-1) is the defending national champion and also has one of the best players in the country in senior midfielder Aly Wagner, who won the Honda Award as the nation’s best female soccer player last year.
“They also have a pretty good supporting cast,” Michigan coach Debbie Rademacher said. “We really have to produce together as a team and have some strategy of countering their strengths with our strengths.”
With Wagner leading the way, it should come as no surprise that Santa Clara’s strength, much like Pepperdine’s, is its offense.
Santa Clara is “a similar type of team to Pepperdine, but probably with a little bit more size and strength,” Rademacher said. “They try to move the ball around and spread teams out and play a possession type of game on the ground.
“Their speed of play is quick.”
While some might immediately doubt the Wolverines’ chances, the team is playing its best soccer of the year and that’s a valauble aspect of tournament play.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” Rademacher said. “The team set a goal at the beginning of the year, and each game gets us more and more excited at the possibility of winning a national championship.”
Michigan (16-6-1) has shut out its last three opponents, bringing its season total to an astounding 10 blankings. The Wolverines have also outscored their opponents 44-17 this year.
Much of the scoring can be credited to the dynamic duo of Big Ten Player of the Year Abby Crumpton and freshman Therese Heaton. The pair has combined to score 21 times.
“If Abby and Therese can get an early service (in the box) behind Santa Clara, they going to give them problems,” Pepperdine coach Tim Ward said.
The Wolverines also impressed Pepperdine freshman goalkeeper Anna Piccarelli.
“I think that Santa Clara will have some trouble playing Michigan,” Piccarelli said. “I think the size factor, and (the fact that) they go through every ball will be a problem for Santa Clara.”
Santa Clara, Calif.
Who: Michigan (16-6-1) vs. Santa Clara (18-4-1)
When: 4 p.m.
Latest: If the Wolverines want to advance to the national semifinals, they will need to defeat last year’s national championship team.