COLUMBUS — Trailing 3-0 to Detroit in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Michigan women’s soccer team needed breaks to get back in the game. Down 3-1 with six minutes left, the Wolverines needed a miracle.

They almost got it.

With 5:53 to go in the second half, freshman Melissa Dobbyn boomed a shot to the top-left corner of the net past Detroit goalkeeper Alisson Dube and cut the Detroit lead to 3-2. Down by just one goal, the Wolverines smelled blood, and furiously attacked the net. But time simply ran out on Michigan. As the final minute ticked away, sophomore Emily Kalmbach sent a cross into a pile of bodies in front of the Titans net. The ball went through the box untouched, and the Titans cleared it, allowing them to celebrate their first-ever NCAA Tournament victory.

“Obviously, we’re extremely disappointed,” Michigan coach Debbie Rademacher said. “To get down three goals in the first half and have to try to get out of that hole was tough. We gave it everything we had, and we were chipping away at it, but it was just a little bit too late.”

Dropping five of its previous seven games, Michigan hoped for a fresh start after receiving a berth to the NCAA Tournament. But on Friday, taking full advantage of a stiff tailwind, the Titans jumped all over Michigan early on.

“Definitely, (the wind) affected the game,” senior tri-captain Rachel Rothenbach said. “But it’s nothing that a team shouldn’t overcome. It’s part of the game to deal with the weather. We’ve played in those conditions before.”

Detroit scored its first goal in the 14th minute after sophomore Brenna Mulholland took down Titan forward Judith Atwood inside the box. Despite Mulholland’s protest, the referees awarded Detroit a penalty kick. Junior Allison Epple beat Michigan sophomore goalkeeper Megan Tuura, and the Titans jumped out to an early 1-0 advantage.

Michigan missed out on a golden opportunity less than five minutes later. Freshman Jamie Artsis was taken down from behind on her way to the net, giving Michigan its own penalty kick chance. But Dube scooped up senior tri-captain Laura Tanchon’s attempt and preserved Detroit’s lead.

Soon after, Detroit sophomore Kathy Banjavcic worked her way behind the Michigan defense, finding herself alone with Tuura. Banjavcic popped the ball over the charging goalkeeper, giving the Titans a 2-0 lead.

Following Detroit’s second goal, Michigan reasserted itself offensively, earning a few offensive opportunities of its own. But with less than two minutes to go in the half, the Titans netted the backbreaker. Senior Judith Atwood streaked down the right side of the field, and Tuura once again came out of the net to challenge. This time, Tuura made a spectacular diving stop, but Banjavcic collected the rebound in front of an empty net. She tapped it in, giving Detroit an enormous 3-0 halftime lead.

Going into halftime, Michigan knew it had a daunting task ahead. But the Wolverines weren’t packing it in.

“We went into halftime, we had the wind (in the second half), that is an advantage,” Rademacher said. “We’ve seen teams come back from those kind of deficits, and we certainly thought we had a chance to do it.”

The combination of the wind and Detroit’s ultraconservative play set up a wild second half in which Michigan outshot Detroit 13-1. The Titans made no serious effort to move the ball down the field, hoping that packing the box would make their 3-0 lead stick.

The strategy almost backfired.

After failing to convert a few good scoring opportunities early in the half, Michigan finally got on the board in the 62nd minute. Sophomore Judy Coffman used the wind to her advantage, hooking a corner kick into the net to score her first career goal.

The Wolverines continued to apply pressure, but Dube came through in the clutch, making seven second-half saves. Despite Dobbyn’s late goal, the monumental task proved to be too much for Michigan. In the end, all the Wolverines could do was reflect on their earliest NCAA Tournament exit since 1997. Especially for the seniors, it was a bittersweet finale.

“It’s been a great few years,” Tanchon said. “I’ve grown not only as a player but as a person, and Michigan’s got a great program.”

The early exit was disappointing for a program that came into the season with much higher expectations, but the Wolverines’ future still looks bright. Whether it was Dobbyn booming shots, Artsis hustling past her opponents or freshman Carrie LaCroix weaving through the Titan defense, the Wolverines’ youngest players played major roles in the attempt at a comeback.

“I think we had a lot of young players out there that haven’t been in this situation before,” Rachemacher said. “Every year makes a huge difference. Where (the seniors) are today, as opposed to four years ago, is light years different. I think if you can take a young core and bring them up, they’re going to learn. You know you’re going to have to have games like this in a four-year career. You hope it isn’t in the first round of the NCAA’s, but you know you’re going to have your ups and downs. This (loss) is what we’re going to feed off of to prepare for the future.”

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