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Getting the scoop on the Wolverines ahead of the second round in the NCAA Tournament

Texas Tech takes on Michigan tomorrow at 2pm, and we’ve got Jay Winkler of Maize n Brew to guide us to knowledge.

Michigan Athletics Media via @umichwsoccer

We linked up with Jay Winkler of Maize N Brew to get some preview on the Michigan Wolverine’s women’s soccer team: a team we will face for the first time in history. Read on for the transcript of our conversation.

Jeramey Gillilan: This is somewhat of an exciting match up not only because it pits together two top 20 teams, Texas Tech (15) and Michigan (19), but also because it is the first time these two teams have met on the pitch. Whats the overall emotion heading into the second round of the NCAA tournament facing off against Texas Tech?

Jay Winkler: I’m excited. Michigan had a sort of mixed go of it in the non-conference schedule where they were pretty consistently beating the teams they were supposed (Marshall, FGCU, Bowling Green) to and then losing to the teams they were supposed to (Notre Dame, Marquette on the road). I figured that they would pretty much plod along like that all season, get a middle seed in the Big Ten Tournament, and if they played a round past their seed in the BTT then they could sneak into a road game in the first round of the NCAA Tourney and that would be a great second season for head coach Jennifer Klein. Then they went out to Pullman and beat Washington State who was #13 at the time, and went and did the same in State College when Penn St was #23. So all of the sudden my RPI watching goes from “are they on the right side of the bubble?” to “what do they need to do in the BTT to open the NCAA Tournament at home.” So it was an exciting season that exceeded expectations.

I’m excited for Friday because it’ll be a tough matchup but, frankly, I think it’s winnable. That’s not a prediction and Texas Tech is obviously a good team, but Michigan split their series with both Penn St and Rutgers, and won the Wazzu game on the road. It’s not like we were seeded to immediately play UNC, I might be a bit more bearish on their chances if I was talking to Tar Heel Blog. I’m excited because I expect it to be back and forth, and I don’t think Michigan will back down just because TTU has been there before. And the neutral site obviously doesn’t hurt.

JG: In just her second year as HC of the Wolverines, Jennifer Klein has done well for herself in the Big 10 by going from 7th place last season to second this season. What is it about her style that made way for such a productive turnaround? Is there any expectation for her in this tournament or are you guys just at a place of “let’s enjoy the ride this year” ?

JW: She’s preached defense and has minimized the number of goals Michigan needs to win. Early in the season the team kept grinding out 1-0, 2-1 wins, and even their early season losses were 0-1 contests. They found the net more as the season went on, but winning a bunch of close games through shutdown D allowed them to pad their early win total and build an RPI cushion, while giving the team confidence that they belonged at the table in the Big Ten.

I’m of two minds on the second part of your question. On the one hand, there’s no dispute that Michigan is playing with house money at this point. They were picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten. So finishing third, making the B1G Tournament final, hosting and winning an NCAA Tourney game, that’s all an overachievement for a team that most thought was a year away. On the other hand, now that they’re here I think they’re ready to win. Michigan has nothing to lose, and I think that makes them dangerous.

JG: Texas Tech’s coach, Tom Stone, commented that Michigan is a team that can beat just about any team in this tournament. Who are some of the star players for the Wolverines that Texas Tech fans should know about before Friday? What makes them so special?

JW: First and foremost is Big Ten Midfielder of the Year Sarah Stratigakis. The whole engine runs through her and her 12 assists show it. She has six goals of her own but what stands out is how often it’s her making that first run on the attack, and getting it to whoever is ready in the box.

Meredith Haakenson led the team in goals at nine. She’s a great finisher when the ball gets put in the box, and has only scored once in four games of tournament play. I’d say she’s due.

Raleigh Loughman had a major breakout season this year. She was an all-B1G Second Team midfielder after being a depth chart player last year. Six goals and seven assists, trailing only the first two I mentioned in points.

She’s probably still a year away from being a huge star at Michigan, but Jayde Riviere got a three appearances including a start for Canada at the World Cup last summer, so I feel like I should at least mention her. For Michigan, she did this:

Finally there’s Hillary Beall, but my next answer is mostly about her.

JG: For Michigan to win, what or who is going to have to improve/have their best game?

JW: It’s not so much improvement, but one of the biggest keys to Michigan’s early season upsets over ranked teams was how good Hillary Beall was in goal. During that Wazzu game there were a bunch of tweets from the Washington State account that were ostensibly Cougars highlights of the great shots they were getting but were really just highlights of great Beall saves. I don’t think Michigan is going to maintain possession the way they did against all the mid-tier Big Ten teams. I think if Michigan wins we’re looking at a 2-1 contest where Beall makes multiple critical saves, including one in the last five minutes.

JG: For Texas Tech to win, they will have to have done ________ well.

JW: I think if you want to beat Michigan you need to make them play from behind. Michigan is 1-4 in games where the opponent scored first. Michigan only had three games all season where they gave up two goals, went 1-2 in those, and in the win they never actually trailed. If Texas Tech can get out to an early lead and force Michigan to press, Michigan is vulnerable on the counter.

JG: Finally tell me how you expect things to shake out at 2pm on Friday!

JW: In their last five games Michigan played Rutgers twice and Penn St. in the B1G Tournament final. They’re ready to play with the bigger teams. 2-1 Michigan, in 2OT. Loughman gets the game winner. Go Blue, should be a great game Friday.

We want to give another huge thank you to Jay Winkler for taking some time to talk footyball with us ahead of tomorrow’s match up. You can find him on twitter @ThoseWhoJay