By Jake Lourim, Daily Sports Writer
Published September 2, 2013
The Michigan women’s soccer team has not faced many tests so far this season, but when it did, coach Greg Ryan stood on the sideline, with his players on the field. He simply watched.
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“Coaching’s kind of like driving a car,” Ryan said. “Sometimes, I’m like, ‘Whoa, I just need to leave this thing alone. It drives really good by itself.’ ”
Sunday, Michigan faced its first deficit after San Diego State floated a long shot over goalie Taylor Bucklin. So the Wolverines did what they had not yet had to do: they regrouped and huddled together, all 11 of them, after San Diego State’s goal.
It was all Michigan from there.
This is not Ryan’s first soccer season. He knows a season full of 3-0 and 6-1 wins, like the Wolverines experienced last weekend, is not realistic. He knew that sooner or later, his team would have to face a test like this. Now, he has the leaders to overcome those tests.
When they did, Michigan rallied, equalizing three minutes later on a goal from Christina Ordonez.
“I saw the opportunity to cut in front of the goalie, so I got ahead on it and so did the other girl,” Ordonez said. “I saw the loose ball and ended up tapping it in.”
Three minutes after Michigan’s lowest moment of the still-young season came one of its best goals of the year. Senior defender Shelina Zadorsky booted a long ball down the right flank for forward Nkem Ezurike, streaking down the sideline. Ezurike whipped it to Kayla Mannino, who in turn hit Ordonez in the box for a header and finish.
“You draw it up like that, but you don’t see it every day,” Ryan said. “It was like lightning striking. It came out of nowhere.”
“Right after their goal, all we wanted to do was get one back right away,” Ordonez said. “That was kind of a fluke goal, and we weren’t ready for it. All we had to do was keep the pressure up.”
In the meeting, which according to Zadorsky was called by senior defender Holly Hein, the Wolverines stayed calm and focused on the next five minutes.
“It just takes a lot of composure,” Ryan said. “I’m not used to having teams like this since I’ve been at Michigan. This is a different animal for me.”
He has handled it well so far, as have his players. They lost their first lead on Friday and won in overtime. They rallied for the first time on Sunday. In San Diego State, Michigan beat a ranked opponent that also finished in the Sweet 16 last season.
In a battle of willpower — both teams played overtime on Friday — the Wolverines had the fitter team. Defenders Zadorsky, Hein and junior midfielder Chloe Sosenko each played every minute of the past two games.
“That has to do with my teammates around me,” Zadorsky said. “They keep us in it. They are working so hard for each other, so just seeing those hard tackles, seeing everyone working hard in front of me from the back line, keeps me in it.”
The final score Sunday was 3-1, but Michigan outshot San Diego State 18-9. The Wolverines also had three clear breakaways from Ezurike, Tori McCombs and Shelby Chambers-Garcia that could have stretched the lead further.
Michigan now has a chance to climb into the top-10 of the national rankings this week, and it knows where it wants to end up.
“Definitely, a Big Ten championship,” Zadorsky said. “We want to take each game one at a time in the NCAA tournament. We want to go farther than we did last year.”
The Big Ten season is still weeks away, so the road to one of Michigan’s goals has not yet started. But Ryan has given his leaders the keys to the car, and for now, it just keeps on rolling.