Redshirt junior goalie Patrick Sperry never thought young soccer players would be asking for his autograph.
Then again, after last year, when the Wolverines didn’t win a single Big Ten regular season game, few soccer fans thought the Wolverines could reach the levels they have this year.
But this season, No. 18 Michigan has proven itself on a big stage. With Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Ohio State at the U-M Soccer Complex, the team tied the Michigan program record for wins in a regular season, ended a five-year winless drought against Ohio State and set itself up for a promising run in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
From the first whistle, it was clear that this game meant more to both teams than a single victory. Between the 38 fouls, four yellow cards and numerous warnings, it was clear that both squads were planning on leaving it all on the field.
“Any time we play Ohio State it’s going to be physical,” junior forward Peri Marosevic said. “Everybody comes out to play and wants to give it their best. Toughness and everybody going in hard, that’s just a part of the game.”
Michigan came into the game hoping to avenge its loss to the Buckeyes a season ago, a game that ended with a controversial goal in the first minute of overtime. Heading into Saturday’s contest no current Wolverine had ever beaten Ohio State (2-4-0 Big Ten, 9-6-2 overall).
During the first half, the Wolverines failed to capitalize on a few good shot opportunities, including one from Marosevic that went just left of the goal and a shot from senior Nader Jarun that sailed slightly over the crossbar.
“We quickly realized that it wasn’t going to be won by a pretty goal,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “It was going to be a hard fought ball that a team was going to get on the end of.”
At halftime, Burns told his players to try to play in the front half of the field and establish a rhythm by controlling the ball and not giving up possession on long pass attempts.
Thirty minutes later, everything came together for Michigan (3-1-1, 11-4-2) when redshirt sophomore Cam Cameron found Marosevic on the right side of the field. Marosevic quickly faked out a single defender and broke towards the goal. He saw the goalie slightly out of position, leaning towards his left, and sent a low shot soaring past the outstretched arms of the Buckeye goalie.
Sperry celebrated an individual accomplishment in addition to the team’s victory. He notched his fifth career conference shutout, another school record.
The team’s record success hasn’t gone unnoticed. After the game, young fans flocked to the Wolverines holding posters and asking for autographs.
“It’s nice to have fans come out and support us,” Sperry said. “Especially the young kids around the town.”
With Sperry sharp in goal, and the players constantly improving, the Wolverines can’t help but think about postseason play and the possibilities that exist for them.
“Obviously, we want to go as far as possible,” Marosevic said. “Any team wants to go as far as possible. We want to win the Big Ten championship, we want to go to the NCAA tournament, we want to win the NCAA tournament.”
There is no doubt that if the Wolverines accomplish their goals and win the school’s first ever Big Ten soccer championship, the team will be signing plenty more autographs.