When the Michigan women’s soccer team faced No. 5 Penn State on Sunday night for a spot in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight, it expected to accept either a victory or a season-ending defeat.
Instead, the record books will indicate that the Wolverines (8-3-2 Big Ten, 16-5-3 overall) tied the first-seeded Nittany Lions, 1-1. But Michigan dropped the ensuing penalty kick shootout, 3-2, and was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.
Fifth-year senior goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer saved the first two penalty kicks to help the Wolverines jump to an early 2-0 lead in the shootout, but freshman Lulu Haidar, junior Shelina Zadorsky and redshirt junior Holly Hein couldn’t capitalize on Michigan’s last three shots. The Nittany Lions (11-1-1, 19-3-2) found the back of the net on their final three opportunities, and goalkeeper Erin McNutty guaranteed the Nittany Lions a spot in the Elite Eight with a diving save of Hein’s shot in the fifth and final round of penalty kicks.
Meanwhile, Michigan will return to Ann Arbor to reminisce on a season that — while incredibly successful — ended in heartbreaking fashion.
The Wolverines got on the board early in the match on fifth-year senior midfielder Clare Stachel’s penalty kick in the 16th minute. The senior midfielder fired the 12-yard shot into the upper corner of the net to give Michigan a 1-0 lead.
Stachel’s goal was her third in as many games. She scored a crucial header against Central Michigan with under a minute to play to force the Wolverines’ first-round NCAA Tournament game into overtime. She also found the back of the net against No. 24 Portland to help the Wolverines advance to the Sweet 16.
The one-goal advantage was similar to an Oct. 21 contest against the Nittany Lions in State College, when the Wolverines took a lead but allowed a late goal and tied 1-1 after two overtimes.
Similarly, Stachel’s tally was not enough to knock off the perennial powerhouse. The Nittany Lions tied the game in the 42nd minute when midfielder Maddy Evans buried a header to pull Penn State even.
“I was disappointed that we gave up a corner-kick goal,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “It was a perfect service. It was 1-1 (at halftime), which I thought was good.”
The score would remain knotted at one through the end of regulation and both extra periods, but there was still plenty of excitement at Jeffrey Field. In the second half, the Nittany Lions controlled possession and tested Michigan’s back line, but it held strong. Near the end of regulation, the Wolverines began counterattacking and exploiting holes in Penn State’s defense, but they couldn’t capitalize on a number of promising runs.
Then, with less than a minute to play, the Nittany Lions created a series of fantastic goal-scoring opportunities. But Kopmeyer made a diving save to parry away a short-range effort, and the ensuing corner kick was cleared off the goal line. The final horn sounded, and the match headed to extra time.
In the second extra period, Penn State’s Mallory Weber had a one-on-one chance to end the game with a golden goal, but Kopmeyer charged the midfielder and saved a low shot with her leg.
“(Kopmeyer) made two or three big-time saves,” Ryan said.
The game then proceeded to the shootout, where Kopmeyer blocked the first two attempts on net. But her heroics weren’t enough and the Nittany Lions stormed back to take the victory.
Thanks to the seniors, Kopmeyer, Stachel and midfielder Emily Jaffe, the Michigan program looks to have a bright future. As freshmen, Stachel and Kopmeyer suffered through a four-win season. This year, the seniors led the Wolverines to 16 wins as they helped galvanize the best defense in the program’s history.
In the process, Jaffe scored a game-winning header to defeat Michigan State, Kopmeyer set the Wolverine record for saves and Stachel tied the school’s mark for most goals scored by a player in a single NCAA Tournament. While the scoreboard at Jeffery Field flashed the final result — 1-1 — the seniors walked off the pitch with their heads held high.