Twice the Michigan women’s soccer team cut the lead to one.

Twice they thought they had a chance to knock off the No. 1 team in the nation – the Penn State Lady Lions (9-0-0 Big Ten, 17-0-0 overall) – on Friday night at the U-M Soccer Field.

But the conference and nation-leading team twice retaliated with goals that extended its lead to two, and two proved to be the final margin of the match. The Wolverines fell 4-2.

“It’s disappointing to have them within one goal, and you give up that killer goal,” Michigan coach Debbie Rademacher said. “(We cut it to) 2-1, then it’s 3-1, then it’s 3-2, then it’s 4-2. I think that’s disappointing, but we had some real shining moments in our attacking game and made it really exciting.”

Those moments came mostly in the second half, when the Wolverines out-shot Penn State 10-8 and scored both their goals. Freshman Danelle Underwood got the first goal – her fifth of the year – on a rebound off a Melissa Dobbyn shot at 65:42 to cut the Lady Lions’ lead to 2-1. After Penn State responded with a goal just 1:38 later, senior Therese Heaton blasted a left-footed shot from outside the 18-yard box over the goalkeeper’s head at 73:34 to make the score 3-2.

But Michigan did not start the game aggressively. The team managed just three shots in the period, and Underwood registered the only shot on goal. The team’s inability to mount serious scoring chances in the first half might have had something to do with the hype of playing the top-ranked team in the nation.

“In the first half, it was high-pressure and it was running all over the place,” Rademacher said. “There’s a lot of adrenaline and excitement and just takes a little while to get that settled down.”

The Lions got their first goal in the first half, opening the scoring with a goal at 29:43. Freshman Zoe Bouchelle sent the ball to the right sideline, where fellow freshman Sheree Gray redirected the ball across the goal and into the lower left corner of the net. The Wolverines’ best chance of the half came with just three minutes left when junior Judy Coffman sent a free kick across the face of the goal. The shot was seemingly headed for the leaping head of sophomore Jamie Artsis, but senior goalkeeper Erin McLeod jumped in front of Artsis and intercepted the pass to preserve the Lions’ lead.

Michigan came out strong in the second half but was calmed almost immediately with a goal from senior Tiffany Weimer, who extended her goal-scoring streak to 16 games and extended the Penn State lead to 2-0. The Wolverines lost track of Gray on the right sideline, and she centered the ball right to the foot of Weimer, who had gotten behind freshman Skylar Andrews. Weimer won her one-on-one with goalkeeper Megan Tuura and placed the ball neatly in the lower right corner of the net.

But other than that one play, Andrews was able to successfully neutralize Weimer – one of the nation’s most feared scoring threats. Following the forward all over the field, Andrews did not allow Weimer any extended touches, repeatedly stepping in between Weimer and the ball. On the rare occasions that Weimer did get the ball, Andrews was able to take the ball from her, often with the help of surrounding teammates.

“I just made sure that I always was near her, always was touching her a little bit and making her unstable,” Andrews said. “I pushed her around a little bit to show her who was there. I wanted to physically dominate her, and I was able to do that.”

With Andrews containing Weimer, Michigan was able to stay in the game. During the course of a substitution, Underwood was bumped up to forward from her midfield position, and the move would pay dividends just moments later.

Underwood successfully followed a blast from the foot of sophomore Melissa Dobbyn with 24:15 left for the Wolverines’ first goal. Throughout the season, Rademacher has stressed that the first five minutes after a goal are when the team is most vulnerable, and her prophecy proved correct this weekend.

Penn State stretched the lead to 3-1 on a goal just 1:38 later. Junior Ali Krieger dribbled through the center of the Wolverines’ defense and beat Tuura with a shot to the lower right corner.

But Michigan fired back. Heaton’s blast from the top of the 18-yard box elicited a chorus of oohs and aahs from the spectators at 73:34 and put the Wolverines right back in the game. Heaton received the pass from Underwood on the left side of the box and quickly turned and fired a left-footed shot that arced over the goalkeeper and into the net.

“I just took a touch and then turned and took a half-chance with my left foot,” Heaton said. “I haven’t hit many shots like I hit that one.”

Michigan had a chance to tie the score at 78:15 when senior Katelin Spencer received a pass off a free kick from freshman Erica Gordy six yards out on the left side of the goal. But Spencer’s shot was saved by a diving goalkeeper, and less than four minutes later Penn State sealed the game. Junior Holly Lincoln was rejected by Tuura, but the rebound bounced right back to her and she scored the clincher at 81:49.

The Wolverines hoped to bounce back on Sunday, but lost a physical 1-0 decision to Minnesota (6-3-0, 9-6-2). After a scoreless first half, the Gophers notched their goal on a shot from 30 yards out off the foot of freshman Lindsey Schwartz. The ball sailed from the left side of the field over freshman goalkeeper Madison Gates into the right side of the net for the game-winner at 73:15.

 

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