Soccer / Sports

Women’s soccer to face U-M on Saturday in first round of NCAA Tournament

The Central Michigan women’s soccer team is looking for a win to extend its season and prove it’s deserving of national recognition.

CMU will travel to Ann Arbor to play the University of Michigan at 6 p.m. on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

CMU became the first team in Mid-American Conference history to receive an at-large bid for the tournament on Monday.

The Chippewas have been to the tournament twice before, but the appearances in 2009 and 2010 came from automatic bids after winning MAC tournament titles.

“I think this means the NCAA has more confidence in us than when we’ve just received automatic bids,” senior forward Laura Twidle said. “They’ve noticed how well we did in our non-conference and gave us this chance.”

Twidle said she knows the Wolverines will have a different style of play than the MAC teams they’ve recently played.

“They put on a different kind of pressure,” Twidle said.

Head coach Neil Stafford said MAC teams tend to apply constant pressure, pounding players with close, physical contact. Michigan is likely to back off and then attack with strong physicality in spurts.

Junior forward Nkem Ezurike will be one of the biggest threats CMU will face playing U-M.

Ezurike finished the regular season fourth in the Big Ten with 13 goals, including five game-winners.

“We know they’re going to feed it to the big girl up top, No. 22,” Stafford said. “It’s a different type of attack, and we’re ready.”

If there’s anything CMU learned from Sunday’s 2-1 MAC tournament loss to Miami, Stafford said it’s finishing chances.

“(Freshman forward) Danielle Rotheram had a great opportunity to give us the lead, and I would’ve normally bet my house on her making that goal,” Stafford said. “She had a great cut back, but the ball went right back to the keeper. We need to be a bit more offensive than we were last weekend.”

Four different players lead CMU in scoring with four goals, while eight have scored at least two. The goal Rotheram was able to score in the MAC championship game tied her with senior midfielder Autumn Hawkins, junior Jennifer Gassman and sophomore Laura Gosse for the team lead.

CMU has scored 32 goals and allowed 19, while U-M has scored 36 and has given up 15.

The Chippewas last played the Wolverines in 2011, resulting in a scoreless draw after double overtime.

Stafford said he doesn’t expect this game to be a repeat of the last matchup between the schools.

“They have a new freshman class, which brings new elements,” Stafford said. “I think they’ll be more mature than the last couple seasons.”

The Chippewas (15-6-1) and the Wolverines (14-5-2) are in the tournament field for the first time since 2010.

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