Ani Sarkisian ran right to the Michigan bench where she was met by the rest of her teammates after turning a penalty kick into a 2-0 lead for the Wolverines during their 3-0 win over visiting Illinois on a beautiful Saturday evening.
“I’ve actually never done that before but I was visualizing before the game that if I scored a goal tonight I would run over to the bench,” said Sarkisian, the talented senior midfielder/forward. “We’ve had just a different mentality over the last week at practice. We’ve been very team orientated and getting the job done together. And they are very much a part of the game even if they aren’t on the field. And I wanted to share the celebration with them and celebrate with my best friends.”
Sarkisian and the Wolverines understood the importance of that goal, this game and what it means for the immediate future of Michigan women’s soccer.
This win was one the Maize and Blue had to have.
The Wolverines came into Saturday’s game with the literally Fighting Illini (we will get to that soon enough) having to win their last two matches to give them a chance to be one of the eight teams to qualify for the tournament.
“It was a win we had to have and the Rutgers game is a game we have to have,” said Michigan Coach Greg Ryan. “If we win these two we have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. We are right on the bubble now but if we can beat Rutgers our RPI should drop down low enough to get in. This was the first game where we have had our players back and they had played a few games together to get that feeling back. I thought we played well.”
Michigan improved to 6-5-6, 3-4-3 B1G while Illinois falls to 5-13-0, 2-8-0 Big Ten.
The Wolverines, who had lost three in a row and had not won since Sept. 24 (2-1 in overtime at Wisconsin), finishes its Big Ten schedule on Wednesday at Rutgers, one of the better teams in the conference.
The Big Ten Tournament begins with the quarterfinals on Sunday, Oct. 29, and will be hosted by the higher seeds in each match. The semifinals (Nov. 3) and finals (Nov. 5) will be held at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
Michigan scored three goals on Saturday after scoring just two goals in their last four games.
After a scoreless first half – one that was pretty evenly played with chances from both sides – the Wolverines broke through at 20:17 on a goal by Reilly Martin. The junior leads Michigan with 17 points on six goals and five assists, including 14 points in Big Ten play.
After a hand ball in the penalty box, the Wolverines were awarded a penalty shot and Sarkisian buried it to make it 2-0 with 16:18 left in the game.
Abby Kastroll raced down the right side with just one Illinois player to beat, pulled the ball back, making the Illini player fall to the ground, and then rifled a low shot past the keeper to make it 3-0 in the final minutes of the game.
They were clearly a different team in the second half.
“It just clicked,” Ryan said. “In the first half when we got forward we were kind of forcing the passes and we were giving away a lot of balls that just a simple connection would have kept possession. We talked about at halftime that when we get in the final third, just calm down and connect the next pass and make runs in the box and it worked out well.”
Illinois Taylor Haynes clearly should have been given a red card and ejected from the game after throwing a punch in the FACE to TWO different Michigan players at 37:56 of the first half. Instead, the referee gave Haynes and Sarkisian yellow cards – much to the dismay of the partisan Michigan crowd.
They are called the Fighting Illini apparently for a reason.
Michigan honored its seven seniors prior to Saturday’s match: Alyssa Dillon, Emma Groffsky, Alyssa Herwatt, Megan Hinz, Sarah Jackson, Sarkisian, and Rubina Veerakone.