HOUGHTON - It seems so simple.
Gifted the ball 12 yards out, with nothing but time and the keeper to beat, a penalty kick in soccer looks to be nothing but a free goal from the outside perspective.
In reality, it's anything but.
Michigan Tech’s Katie Boardman goes in on Bemidji State goalkeeper Amanda Garvin during Saturday’s game at Sherman Field. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
Soccer history is filled with strikers who can score regularly from 20-yards plus but freeze up when asked to slot past a keeper from the spot. Sometimes it is just plain weird. Off-the-pitch headcases like Italian star Mario Balotelli can sport a near perfect record on penalties, while other natural goalscorers - such as U.S. forward Clint Dempsey - regularly struggle.
The Michigan Tech soccer team has found itself on the wrong side of that puzzle more often than not these last two seasons, and the issue reared its ugly head Saturday in a 2-1 non-conference loss to Bemidji State at Sherman Field.
Trailing by a goal after an event-filled first half, the Huskies were granted a golden opportunity to equalize when freshman forward Kathryn Fife was handled too roughly in the area for the referee's liking and he pointed to the spot with just over a half-hour left in the game.
Senior Katie Boardman immediately stepped over the ball. Given the go-ahead by the ref, the left-footed forward started a run feinting to hook the ball inside the right post and pulled off at the last second to try and push it left. The senior may have fooled herself more than Bemidji keeper Amanda Garvin, however, as Boardman rolled a dribbler way-wide left.
Going back to last season, the Huskies are now 1-for-4 on penalty tries.
"Let's just say it wasn't my first choice of shots," Tech coach Michelle Jacob, obviously upset after the loss, said.
"It is a pressure situation," Jacob continued after a pause. "Any kid can make it and any kid can miss. They can make it 1,000 times, and the one the one time it doesn't go in. You try and bounce back and get the next one."
When asked how often the team practiced penalties during the week, Jacob's answer was short and to the point.
"Clearly we need to do it a little bit more," Jacob said.
The miss seemed to sap whatever cutting edge the Huskies had left in the final third of the pitch.
Passes were hurried or off the mark. Patience was eschewed for the hope of a quick equalizer that never came.
"We had moments where we didn't play simple and we made the game way harder than it needed to be and it was costly for us," Jacob said. "We lost a little bit of our composure where we maybe could have done better."
In the first half, Tech found themselves trailing 18 minutes into the contest after Tech center back Kaitlyn Boelter accidentally deflected a hard Bemidji cross into the back of the net.
Six minutes later, the Beavers took the lead for good when Tiffany VanHaaftan converted a penalty of her own after being taken down in the box by Mackenzie Jordan.
"They took advantage of their opportunities," Jacob said. "We didn't do as good a job with that."
The Huskies were able to pull one back when Fife showed some nifty foot-work at the top of the area to create space before slotting home far post.
Top scorer Lindsey Van Rooy also found herself with just the keeper to beat in the first half, but shot right at Garvin.
With GLIAC play starting Friday against Lake Erie, the Huskies ended their non-conference schedule 2-2 with plenty of ups-and-downs for Jacob to address.
"It is always disappointing to lose, but I think we have so much room to grow this year," Jacob said. "They will rally back."