Anyone who claims that soccer players are weak obviously hasn’t seen the Michigan women’s soccer team play. After beating No. 3 seed Pepperdine on Saturday, the Wolverines are one game away from reaching the College Cup, the equivalent of the Final Four for women’s soccer.

Paul Wong
Michigan senior defender Andrea Kayal had her first two-assist game of the season as she helped the Wolverines advance to the NCAA quarterfinals, where they will face Santa Clara.

Pepperdine coach Tim Ward was impressed by the tenacity that the Wolverines played with.

“You really don’t see that kind of intensity too often,” Ward said. “These Michigan girls were running right through our forwards, and it wasn’t dirty either. It was just hard to the ball.”

Ward also noted that Michigan is a physically imposing team.

“(Michigan’s) average team size is 5-foot-8,” Ward noted. “When they were introducing (the players), and they were running out, I was thinking, ‘That’s a big girl, there goes another one.'”

Michigan’s physical dominance is probably best seen when looking at the various defensive efforts that the Wolverines have made this year. The team has shut out its opponents 10 times, and Michigan goalie Suzie Grech has allowed just 18 total goals in 23 games.

“(This game) was only the second time we’ve been shut out all year,” Ward said. “On the defensive end, Michigan did a good job.”

In addition to being physically dominating, the Wolverines have also shown mental toughness, and coach Debbie Rademacher feels that trait is just as important as the physical skills that the players have.

“I think over the course of the season we’ve faced all different kinds of situations,” Rademacher said. “We’ve been on a winning streak, and we’ve lost a few. Every time we’re out there we try to train the mental aspect of the game. The psychological part of the game is big.”

Rademacher said that the team’s mental toughness helped the Wolverines to generate very positive feelings prior to the game on Saturday, and that ultimately helped them to prevail.

“I think we played with a lot of confidence,” Rademacher said. “We knew exactly the type of team we were, and they showed that they were a very good team. They move the ball, they’re quick, they’re dangerous.

“I think we were well-prepared and expecting that. We just found a way to get our goals and stay tough defensively.”

Senior defender and tri-captain Andrea Kayal noted that the Wolverines were forced to adjust to Pepperdine’s style of play.

“After 20 minutes of this game, when we got the feel for what they were doing, we really started to tighten it up and put the pressure on,” Kayal said.

One might think that with Kayal graduating after this season, there might be a drop-off in the level of play. But Kayal put those thoughts to rest.

“There’s no hole that cannot be filled,” she said. “I have total confidence in the players stepping up. They’ll do just fine.”

The Wolverines have played hard all season and have earned the right to be confident. If they get down in next week’s game against Santa Clara, it might be hard to come back.

But if you ask the Wolverines, they’ll tell you that they can handle the pressure, no sweat.

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