HOUGHTON - The success Michigan Tech has enjoyed in soccer this season stems from a simple strategy.
In fact, that is the strategy. Keep it simple.
By emphasizing possession above all else - with the motto: "make the simple pass" - Huskies coach Michelle Jacob has transformed the soccer program from a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference afterthought in the first two years of its existence to the No. 2 seed in the GLIAC Tournament.
Michigan Tech’s Alyssa Hynnek tries to take the ball around Tiffin’s Lauren Bowyer during Tuesday’s GLIAC?Tournament Quarterfinal at Sherman Field. After beating the Dragons 3-0, Tech will play Saginaw Valley Friday in the semifinals. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
After dominating Tiffin Tuesday in the quarterfinals to a 3-0 final, Tech matches up with No. 3 seed Saginaw Valley at host Grand Valley State (Allendale, Mich.) Friday. The winner goes on to the GLIAC finals Sunday against the winner of Grand Valley and Ferris State (likely Grand Valley).
Tech scored a 3-1 win at Saginaw earlier this year by - you guessed it - controlling possession and outchancing the Cardinals.
"It looked similar to a lot of our games," Jacob said of the regular season win. "We possessed well and attacked from the outside. Just played good composed soccer. I really thought all through that game we looked confident and everyone was playing well at every position. They play a similar formation as we do (a 4-3-3), so we match up pretty evenly."
One major difference in this meeting will be the subtraction of Tech midfielder Janelle Riedl. The sophomore sprained her right ankle - "pretty badly," according to Jacob - Tuesday late against Tiffin and will not be available this weekend.
While the Huskies attack does not rely on any one player, Riedl often acted as the hub in the midfield, maintaining possession under pressure and allowing the forwards time to make diagonal runs. Riedl ranks second on the team in assists with five and third in goals with five, plus handles most of the free and corner kicks.
More than any other player, she embodied the possession game Jacob preaches.
"We are definitely going to miss her out there, but throughout the season we have had a bunch of injuries, and the neat thing about our team is we have been able to step up when we need them to," Jacob said. "They play for each other, and it has made us strong as an entire team."
Jacob will give sophomore Danna Kasom the first shot to replace Riedl as the attacking midfielder.
Normally a center forward, Kasom has shown an ability to play with her back to the goal in the middle of the field and link up with runners down either sideline. While just 5-foot-2, Kasom has shown the feistiness and willingness to make tackles against bigger players.
"She is perfectly capable of doing it," Jacob said. "She is great at keeping the ball and distributing it. She works well with there."
With Kasom's instincts undoubtedly offensive, however, it will be up to fellow midfielders Lindsey Van Rooy and Kattie Pappas to maintain discipline in surging with the attack to not leave the back four defenders exposed.
According to Jacob, Tech opened a 3-0 lead against Saginaw last time by winning the battle in the midfield.
"Our mids were able to control them," Jacob said. "They have some good midfielders but we really shut them down."
If the Huskies are victorious Friday, a berth in the final game Sunday is their reward.
While Tech lost 5-0 at the Lakers two weeks ago, Jacob believes the final margin was not indicative of the game action.
And as the Huskies have proven, they are quick learners on the pitch.
"They are a fast team, and they put a lot of pressure on us, but if we keep attacking forward, I think we can match up with them," Jacob said.
"There was plenty to be proud of the last time we played them, a lot of little victories we can focus on."