When the Michigan women’s soccer team faced then-No. 14 Wisconsin on Sep. 23, it rode a dominating defensive effort to pull off the upset. Wednesday night, that same formula worked again as the Wolverines (8-2-2 Big Ten, 14-4-2 overall) defeated the Badgers, 2-0, in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals in Bloomington.

Ruby Wallau/Daily
Junior forward Nkem Ezurike scored her 12th goal of the season to give Michigan a 2-0 lead late in its victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament.

The Michigan defense — which has struggled of late — shut out Wisconsin (5-6-1, 12-7-1) for its 12th clean sheet of the season. Senior goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer made four saves for a program-record 26th individual shutout of her career. On the day that she also earned Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year honors.

Kopmeyer said it was becoming routine to blank opponents.

“It’s nice to see us getting back into the swing of things and playing the way we should,” Kopmeyer said.

Neither goalkeeper was very active in the first half, as each team managed only one shot on goal. The best early scoring chance for either side came in the 14th minute, when Wisconsin goalkeeper Lauren Gunderson misplayed a free kick. Junior forward Nkem Ezurike corralled the ball, but her short-range shot sailed just wide of the goalpost. The Badgers and Wolverines remained deadlocked into the second half.

Both sides produced more offensive opportunities after halftime. In the 52nd minute, McKenna Meuer ended a well-executed Wisconsin counterattack with a shot that missed the crossbar by inches. The Wolverines then peppered the Badgers with three corner kicks and five shots in under two minutes, but hit the post twice.

In the 56th minute, redshirt junior defender Holly Hein broke the scoreless draw for good. After the Wolverines earned their third consecutive corner kick, Hein pushed forward to provide an extra offensive body. Junior forward Shelby Chambers-Garcia took the set piece, and Hein stood near the far post while her teammates all broke towards the opposite side of the net. The Wisconsin defenders lost their marks, and Hein was unguarded as she launched a header on goal. The shot hit a defender but bounced right back to Hein, who quickly buried the rebound for her second goal of the season.

“It’s a good feeling,” Hein said. “(Chambers-Garcia) put in the perfect ball to the back post.”

Down a tally and facing tournament elimination, the Badgers began sending more players forward. When they did, Ezurike and the Michigan offense took advantage of the extra space. In the 75th minute, junior midfielder Meghan Toohey lofted a long through ball past the Wisconsin defense. Ezurike settled the pass and tapped it past Gunderson to double the Wolverines’ lead. It was her 12th goal of the season in as many conference games.

The Badgers nearly answered in the 82nd minute when Wisconsin midfielder Monica Lam-Feist dribbled into the 18-yard box, but her powerful shot was kept out of the net by a diving Kopmeyer. Neither side threatened again, and the Wolverines held on for the victory.

“We pressured them better throughout the entire game,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “We went into halftime knowing that … we were going to get enough chances to win the game.”

Michigan advances to the semifinals where it will face Ohio State on Friday afternoon. The Buckeyes defeated Nebraska, 1-0, on Wednesday.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *