The play came near the end of the second overtime. Michigan and Nebraska were deadlocked at 1-1 after regulation, a 10-minute overtime and eight minutes of the second OT in a Big Ten women’s soccer match-up on Sunday.
That’s when Sarah Stratigakis found herself deep in the Cornhuskers’ end of the pitch. Problem was she had three defenders draped around her. Beating one defender? Sure. Beating two? That’s a problem. Three? Yeah, not happening at this level.
But don’t tell that to Stratigakis, the highly skilled freshman in her first year for the Wolverines. She beat the initial defender. Then the second. The third one had no choice but to take her out and down she went – hard. The play drew a foul call and one last scoring chance for the home team.
While the Wolverines failed to score and settled for the 1-1 draw, it certainly left a lasting impression on U-M Coach Greg Ryan, not that he needs another reason to be impressed with one of his standout freshman soccer players.
“Sarah is so good,” Ryan said, smiling and shaking his head in amazement. “Every team is having problems dealing with her and even today she beats three players and draws the free kick late in the game because of her ability to break defenders down.”
The freshman from Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada, has been breaking it down ever since arriving in Ann Arbor. It’s been a relatively easy transition because she is where she wants to be – and that always helps.
Coming south to Michigan appears to be a win-win for everyone involved. And it’s off to an incredible start with Stratigakis part of a freshman class that is seeing more time on the field than on the bench.
“I just love the academics and the soccer is obviously very good,” she said, explaining her decision to don Maize and Blue. “The coaches were great and my teammates are awesome. When I came here I knew it was my top pick. It just checked off everything on my list for what I was looking for.”
She said it’s been “smooth sailing” as far as the transition to a new school, team and country. And gives credit to her teammates and coaches for making her feel welcome and comfortable on and off the field.
“I just hope to step on the pitch every game,” she says. “I just love to play soccer.”
Ranked No. 47 overall, and the No. 18 midfielder in the Class of 2017 by Top Drawer Soccer, Stratigakis has always been a team player, more concerned about helping the team than padding statistics or playing for personal accolades.
“I put her in a role today where she had to do a lot of defending and a lot of attacking so she is probably very tired,” Ryan said after Sunday’s tie. “But we are at our best when we have Sarah focusing more on the attacking part of the game but today she had to play a little bit deeper but she still found ways to get forward and create havoc.”
Stratigakis was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the second time this season after she had a hand in three of Michigan’s four goals in a pair of overtime matches last week on the road.
Against Minnesota, she assisted on U-M’s first goal and scored the game-tying goal with 11 seconds left in regulation to force overtime and help Michigan earn a 2-2 draw. Against Wisconsin, Stratigakis assisted on the game-winning goal in the 96th minute to help U-M upset the ninth-ranked Badgers.
As you would expect, she took the award in stride.
“It was a great honor but I’m just happy to play for Michigan and be a part of this amazing atmosphere they have here along with great coaches and great teammates,” said Stratigakis, who scored her first career goal in the season-opener against Washington (Aug. 18) just 7:16 into the game.
Awards and honors are nice. So are rankings, which has Michigan at No. 12 in the nation despite a lineup filled with youngsters including Stratigakis who wasn’t a part of the American club soccer scene but has faced strong competition ever since she stepped on the pitch.
“It’s a little different than here,” she said. “I played for the Canadian National Team so that’s a different dynamic but I just love playing for both Michigan and Canada.”
Stratigakis has represented Canada at the U-15, U-17, U-20 and Senior National Team levels, making her debut with the Canadian Senior National Team at the age of 16 in July 2015 at the Pan American Games. She started for the U-17 and U-20 National Teams at the 2016 FIFA World Cups and was captain for the U-17 team.
She also was named tournament MVP after leading Canada to the 2014 CONCACAF Girls’ U-15 gold medal and scored two goals against Honduras at the 2015 CONCACAF Women’s U-20 Championship to lift Canada to the semifinals.
Stratigakis said she hopes to continue playing on the national level with Team Canada and play professional soccer when her Michigan career is over. But for now, her focus is on the Maize and Blue.