The Michigan women’s soccer team earned its first Big Ten win of the year against Illinois on Sunday thanks to a standout performance from redshirt freshman goalie Haley Kopmeyer and a header in the 74th minute that gave the Wolverines a tough 1-0 win.
The victory came on the heels of a 2-1 loss on Friday against Iowa (1-7-0 Big Ten, 9-9-0 overall) in Iowa City, which was the latest in a frustrating run of ties and close losses.
Michigan won despite being outshot by Illinois 21-4, which forced Kopmeyer to make a career high 11 saves. The shutout was her sixth of the season, a record for Michigan rookie goaltenders.
It’s easy to point to Michigan’s shot disadvantage against Illinois (2-5-2, 7-8-3) and its 300-148 shot disadvantage over the course of the season as a sign that the team is lacking in talent. Michigan coach Greg Ryan knows this is partly true, since injuries and the dismissal of a few players forced the Wolverines to have just 6.2 of their allotted 14 scholarships out on the field this weekend. With the lack of depth, the team has struggled in the offensive zone all year.
But Ryan notes that the shot deficit is also in part by design.
“We use a defensive scheme where the back line drops and doesn’t allow anything behind them, forcing the other team to take low-percentage shots outside the box,” he said. “Kopmeyer is so rangy. She doesn’t have a lot of trouble with those.”
Even with that massive shot disadvantage, Michigan (1-3-5, 6-8-5) has been outscored just 25-20 this year.
“It’s a common strategy around the world,” Ryan said. “Teams with less offensive talent have to compensate for it. We drop the back line, don’t allow great chances, and counter-attack when we can. Soccer’s not about how many shots you have it’s about how many solid chances you get, and the way we play is all about that.”
Senior midfielder Alex Jendrusch’s game-winning goal came off a cross from junior defender Amanda Bowery in the 74th minute. It was her fourth goal of the season, which made her the team leader in goals.
“If you had told me last year that Jendrusch would be our leading scorer, I would have bet the farm against it,” Ryan said. “She’s made so much progress since then. If I had to pick the best example of a player whose development the younger ones should try to emulate, it’d be her.”
The Wolverines weren’t as successful on Friday against Iowa. Sophomore Kristen Goncalves scored on a breakaway 15 minutes into the game to tie the game at one, but the Hawkeyes scored on a shot from 25 yards out in the 64th minute to steal the deal.
It was a tight, defensive game where Kopmeyer was again impressive, making six saves, including a couple of very difficult ones. According to Ryan, the defense played very well overall, but a few defensive lapses cost the Wolverines the game. Ryan said there was a lack of pressure on the ball before the second goal, something the Michigan defense normally does well.
“Other than that, it was just a great shot right in the corner,” he said. “There was nothing Kopmeyer could do about it.”
The Wolverines play just one more game this season, against Penn State on Nov. 8. A Big Ten championship might be out of reach, but despite the team’s mediocre record, the season was one of great progress for Michigan. In the face of many problems in the last few years, the program is just now beginning to use all of its allotted scholarships.
But this year, Michigan has shown great resilience. It was proven that it can play against quality competition, forcing five ties against Big Ten opponents and suffering several close losses.
And that is an important step for the program as it seeks to climb the Big Ten ladder in the future.