After scoring the goal that propelled the Michigan women’s soccer team to the Big Ten tournament semifinals, junior midfielder Holly Hein couldn’t hide her excitement for the Wolverines’ next opponent. On Friday, Michigan (8-2-2 Big Ten, 14-4-2 overall) will face No. 24 Ohio State for a berth in the conference championship.
When the two teams met on Oct. 18 in Columbus, a missed call helped the Buckeyes (9-2-1, 14-4-1) hand the Wolverines their first conference loss of the season, 3-1. It started a three-game winless slide that dropped Michigan to third in the Big Ten and out of the national polls. With an opportunity to knock their rivals out of the conference tournament and improve their NCAA Tournament resume, the Wolverines are awaiting the rematch with a chip on their shoulders. They didn’t even celebrate after beating Wisconsin in the quarterfinal round.
“We’re not satisfied,” Hein said. “We’re refocused, and we have another shot (at Ohio State).”
Michigan has reason to believe that it can beat the Buckeyes. Early in the second half of the first contest, Michigan coach Greg Ryan believes that the referee incorrectly ruled that an Ohio State shot had crossed the goal line. That shifted momentum towards the Buckeyes and gave them a two-goal advantage that Michigan could not overcome. Two weeks later, Ryan still talks about that blown call. Like his players, Ryan says he is looking forward to the rematch.
“They’re a very good team,” he said. “But we’re a very good team. If we take our chances well, then we’ve got a shot.”
For the Wolverines to pull off the minor upset, they will have to find a way to slow down Ohio State forward Tiffany Cameron. The senior leads the Big Ten with 18 goals — also good for fourth in the nation — and she found the back of the net twice when the teams first met in October. At 5-foot-5, Cameron isn’t a particularly dangerous threat in the air, but her speed and powerful shots create matchup problems for defenses across the country.
“She’s their Nkem Ezurike,” Ryan said. “(Cameron) is just a fantastic player.”
Cameron’s presence often forces double-teams, which creates more opportunities for her teammates. Defender Lauren Granberg has tallied eight goals this season, and five other players have found the back of the net at least once.
With the exception of Ohio State, Michigan’s back line has repeatedly shut down some of the best attacking teams in the country. Anchored by three All-Big Ten selections, the defensive unit has recorded a program-best 12 shutouts this season. In the process, the Wolverines have surrendered just 13 goals all year and are on track to set a new program record for fewest goals allowed. But three of those tallies came against the Buckeyes, which scored twice on set-pieces. Ryan said that the Wolverines will emphasize defending free kicks and corner kicks before Friday’s rematch.
Michigan has an offensive weapon of its own in Ezurike. The junior has scored 12 goals this season, and had the lone tally in the regular-season loss to Ohio State. In addition, 12 other players have recorded at least one goal. Though the Wolverines only found the back of the net once in Columbus, they created several other opportunities that were just off target.
“In every statistical category, we outplayed Ohio State,” Ryan said. “Their chances just went in.”