Ever ridden the Millennium Force at the amusement park Cedar Point? The exciting drops, thrills, highs and lows on this rollercoaster are world famous and breathtaking. Want to feel all of that without the two-hour drive? Come to a Michigan women’s soccer game.
Fans may have felt like they just stepped off a unpredictable ride after last weekend, when the Wolverines survived a nail biter Friday to notch an overtime win against Michigan State (4-6-0 Big Ten, 10-7-0 overall), and then let a one-goal lead slip through their fingers in a non-conference loss to Kansas (5-3-1 Big 12, 14-4-1 overall) yesterday afternoon. Fierce, sometimes inconsistent play allowed for many scoring chances and close calls that kept all spectators on their toes.
Against the Jayhawks, the Wolverines (4-2-4 Big Ten, 6-6-6 overall) came out strong, scoring early in the first half. Forward Katie Kramer fired a shot inside the 18-yard box that ricocheted off Kansas’s goalkeeper, and freshman midfielder Katelin Spencer was there to put it away.
Michigan kept the pressure on most of the first half, allowing few shots – just five to the Wolverines’ 11.
“I thought our first half was great,” Michigan coach Debbie Rademacher said. “I thought we were strong, and we took it to them.”
Kansas coach Mark Francis agreed.
“For the first 20 or 30 minutes it was all them, we weren’t even in the game,” Francis said. “(Michigan is) a good team, and we knew we were going to get (the loss) handed to us if we didn’t step it up.”
Kansas did step it up in the second half, and that increased intensity, combined with Michigan’s lapse in play, resulted in Kansas’s Caroline Smith scoring twice within a three-minute period.
“(Smith) is by far their key player, and she has by far the most goals on their team,” Rademacher said. “Our game plan was that if you can shut down (Smith), you can shut down Kansas. And we didn’t do that.”
Despite a last-minute scrum in front of the goal, Michigan couldn’t come up with the equalizer. The loss was a disappointing one for the seniors, who saw their last career action at the Michigan Soccer Field on Sunday.
“I think it’s all that more frustrating because it wasn’t that we played terribly, it was that just two times in the game (we made a mistake) and they made the most of it,” Rademacher said.
Yesterday’s loss was especially bittersweet after the Wolverines had pulled off an exciting and important win on Friday.
The match against Michigan State was Michigan’s last Big Ten contest – a pivotal one since the Wolverines needed to solidify their standing in the Big Ten and are on the cusp of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. After Michigan midfielder Erica Kleinholz scored early in the first half, the game seemed to be wrapped up for the Wolverines. But with less than five minutes left in the game, Michigan State’s Tiffany Laskowski knocked one into the lower right corner of the net, beating senior goalkeeper Suzie Grech. Back and forth play continued until Michigan was awarded a free kick right outside the 18-yard box with less than a minute left in regulation. But time ran out before the Wolverines could get a shot off.
The crowd of 1,417 was ready for more intense play, but it didn’t get to see much, as just 3:20 into the first overtime senior Stephanie Chavez ended the match with a rocket past Michigan State’s goalkeeper to win the game. It was Michigan’s first overtime win this season after playing six other contests to double-overtime ties.
“When they scored the tying goal with five minutes left you have that feeling, ‘Is this going to be another tie?’ ” Rademacher said. “But I just give credit to the team. They just came out and really wanted it bad. They’re sick of coming out with ties.”
Instead of the frustration and ambiguity of ties, this weekend the Wolverines got an incredible win and a disappointing loss. Michigan has one final chance to finish the season on a high note when it faces No. 2 Notre Dame on Wednesday. Will the Wolverines’ roller coaster leave its riders nauseous or exhilarated? Rademacher hopes it will be the latter.
“We feel like we’re just getting started,” Rademacher said. “We still want to make the NCAA Tournament. I don’t have to say too much; the girls know what’s at stake.”