The Purdue soccer team heads to Piscataway, N.J., today seeking revenge in a rematch against No. 6 Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
The Wolverines were one of three teams to beat the Boilers this season and the only team to beat them at Folk Field in September. It was a back-and-forth game with fifth-year forward Sarah Griffith scoring the lone Purdue goal, sandwiched in between two other goals by Michigan forwards.
This matchup will be an offensive fireworks show. The Boilers are coming off a dominant win over Ohio State where despite a final score of 1-0, the team still set up many shots on goal, according to head coach Drew Roff.
The Boilers shot their season high 11 shots on goal against the Buckeyes, whereas the Wolverines averaged 8.21 SOG/game this season, the second highest in the Big Ten conference. Purdue averages 6.47 SOG/game.
It will be up to a strong defensive performance from the back line anchored by senior goalkeeper Marisa Bova, who leads the Big Ten with 93 saves, to help propel Purdue into the championship match.
Bova does a lot more than punch out and save shots from opposing offenses. As a goalkeeper, she has a distinct, unique view of the field. Her job is to also communicate with defenders to get them into better positions.
“I can see our width, spaces in between that the defense can’t regularly see,” she said. “A lot of times forwards like to run behind the defense, behind the shoulder (or) behind their vision.”
One of the players she communicates with constantly is sophomore defender Nicole Kevdzija. Though Purdue’s roster lists her officially as a forward/midfielder, she transitioned to a defensive role midway through the season.
Kevdzija said the team underestimated how athletic the Michigan forwards were in the first match. If she and the rest of the back line could “keep their lines tight,” she’s confident the team could win this time.
Michigan loves to “attack and send numbers forward,” Roff said. In order to win, the Boilers will have to work together and defend as a team.
Kevdzija specifically remembers in particular one player that gave the Boilermakers problems. She got firsthand experience of center forward Dani Wolfe’s speed and physicality when Wolfe ran through her and senior defender Skylurr Patrick for a wide open shot on Bova, where she scored.
“She was able to body us,” Kevdzija said. “It was definitely very difficult to handle up top.”
Bova’s communication with Kevdzija and the backline will be key to getting into proper positions to help slow down Wolfe and the rest of Michigan’s aggressive offense.
One player that has gone relatively under the radar that will also be in the mix is senior midfielder Grace Walsh who lines up as the “six,” or a defensive midfielder.
Typically, she’s aligned in front of the back line, protecting them by breaking up plays and winning tackles. She is the link between the back four and attacking players, Roff said.
After Purdue beat the Buckeyes last weekend, Griffith mentioned how Walsh has gone overlooked.
Walsh’s job calls for her to be a part of “every single play,” Griffith said. The stats don’t convey the full story of how well she plays and how valuable she is to the team, she said.
“She does so much work that people don’t see,” Griffith said. “She cuts off so many angles and wins balls and then automatically goes vertical.”
Walsh’s ability to play fast allows the Boilers to counter quickly, turning defense to offense before the opponent can regroup. Michigan should be familiar with her skills. In their last game, she was on the assisting end of Griffith’s goal that momentarily tied the game.
“I always try to work hard for my fellow defenders and also try to create opportunities for the attackers as well,” Walsh said.