EAST LANSING – A heartbreaking result for the Michigan State women’s soccer team ensued on Saturday, as the team suffered a loss in the final minutes of its match against its biggest rival, the No. 19-ranked Michigan Wolverines.
Michigan claimed a 3-2 victory at the 86th minute, as they continue to top the Big Ten conference standings.
Head coach Tom Saxton praised the attendance of the crowd by saying it was “a great night for soccer with a fantastic crowd” in front of the former Spartans on alumni night at DeMartin Stadium.
Michigan has now achieved its first double-digit win season since 2016. They are also ranked in the top 20 for the first time since 2016.
The Wolverines are currently led by junior midfielder Nicki Hernandez, who owns eight goals and six assists on the season. Goalkeeper Hillary Beall has also been named in a Goalkeeper of the Week in the Big Ten alongside her freshman teammate Danielle Wolfe.
Michigan looked very comfortable in possession in the opening minutes of the match, and MSU tried to match their intensity early on. At the eighth minute, Michigan superstar Hernandez set her teammate, Hannah Blake, with a dangerous cross that resulted in the first goal of the game.
Three minutes later, another goal was scored by Michigan at the 11th minute, which was a result of distracted defending by MSU. This was taken advantage of by Michigan midfielder Meredith Haakenson.
MSU could not find many opportunities going toward the goal. And on the opposite side, Michigan created many chances comfortably. The Spartans tried to find many of their chances going through their recently honored Big Ten player of the week, Gia Wahlberg.
“We got off to a very poor start,” Saxton said. “(We looked) a little bit like a deer in headlights. Probably our worst first half of the season.”
Michigan led 2-0 at the end of the first half, but MSU started to compete more with Michigan in the last 15 minutes. The Spartans still struggled to find clear opportunities and shots to really trouble Michigan’s defense.
All of that would change at the 63rd minute, when a great corner kick delivery by Gabriala Jodzis was headed by the defender, Bria Schrotenboer for the first MSU goal of the game. A well-deserved goal for the Spartans would continue the team’s trend of looking for more chances. The Spartans looked to level the game with less than 30 minutes remaining.
MSU continued its brilliant second half performance after its first goal, then suddenly, a fantastic break away from MSU led to a brilliant chipped finish by freshman Paige Webber. The goal was her sixth goal of the season to tie the game at the 75th minute.
With only 15 minutes left, both teams were looking for the deciding goal and momentum started leaning toward the Spartans. Both teams were fighting for possession, but at the moment, only the Spartans were creating chances.
At the 86th minute, Michigan forward Sura Yekka capitalized on a one-on-one break away to earn an emotional final goal for the Wolverines to seal the game.
Saxton, disappointed in the end, was very proud of the team’s spirit.
“We just challenged our team’s character, and not surprising, they showed character and were much better in the second half with a couple of great goals to equalize,” Saxton said. “We’d like to get our first 20 minutes back, but we responded in the second half and made a game out of it.”
The Spartans fought until the very end for the victory, but the class and determination of the Wolverines showed that they deserved to win this emotional last-minute thriller.
The Spartans now look ahead to close out the season at home against Big Ten opponents Maryland, Rutgers and Indiana.
Contact Luca Melloni at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @mellonluca.