The Michigan women’s soccer team was facing its most important weekend of the season.
With just four games to play before the Big Ten tournament, the Wolverines were trying to finish strong and make it into the conference playoffs.
In the Big Ten, the top eight teams make the conference tournament, and the winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Going into the weekend, the Wolverines were one of the outside teams looking in.
To have a shot at the tournament, the Wolverines had to win on the road against Wisconsin (9-6-1 overall, 3-4-0 Big Ten) and Northwestern (8-7-1, 3-4-0). But Michigan lost both games. Michigan coach Greg Ryan gave the usual explanation: the team lacks experience and execution.
The team started five freshmen in the game on Sunday and Ryan has consistently started at least four freshman all year. “Like most freshmen they are going to be up and down, and this weekend it was down,” Ryan said.
Michigan (4-9-4 overall, 1-5-2 Big Ten) has just one Big Ten win with two games remaining against Indiana (6-10-1 overall, 1-6-1 Big Ten) and Michigan State (13-4-0, 5-3-0). In order to make the tournament, Michigan would have to win its two remaining games and receive some outside help.
The Wolverines lost 3-1 in Ryan’s return to Wisconsin, where he coached for nine seasons. Against Northwestern, Michigan’s play didn’t improve as the team fell once again on Sunday 1-0.
The play of redshirt freshman goalkeeper Kristen Keane in the second half against Wisconsin was the lone highlight of the weekend. After a flurry of scoring within 10 minutes in the middle of the first half, with senior Madison Gates in goal, the Wolverines faced a 3-0 deficit.
Ryan played Keane in goal after halftime to give her playing time, and then he gave her the start on Sunday near her hometown of Chicago, when the team played Northwestern. The decision paid off.
“(Keane) did a good job controlling the ball behind the defense, and her distribution was good,” Ryan said. “She was very calm, collected and composed behind the back four.”
On the other hand the offense struggled all weekend, tallying one goal in two games. Senior midfielder Katie Miler scored in the final minutes of the Wisconsin game. The Wolverines were shut out in Evanston against the Wildcats.
But this lack of offense is nothing new for the inexperienced Wolverines.
“We’re getting players in the box,” Ryan said. “We are getting people in position to score goals now, but we have to beat people down the flanks. We have to have our wide players beating players getting crosses in, cutting in and going to goal.”
Even though his team is at the bottom of the Big Ten standings, Ryan isn’t as disappointed.
“As far as the Big Ten tournament goes,” Ryan said. “We haven’t really even looked at those as goals for this team this year. We’ve just really looked at knowing that we are in the middle of a rebuilding process, knowing that the key to our future is improving on a daily basis.”