By MATT WELLENS
Journal Sports Editor
MARQUETTE - After being shutout five times in seven games, Northern Michigan University head women's soccer coach Matt Granstrand did something he's rarely done in his nine seasons in Marquette.
Northern?Michigan University sophomore defenseman turned striker Taylor Smith (28) evades the pressure of Tiffin sophomore defender Jordan Larison during the first half of Friday’s GLIAC?match at the NMU Soccer Field in?Marquette. (Journal photo by Zach Jay)
He got offensive.
The strategy worked until Tiffin scored the game-winning goal in the 71st minute for a 3-2 GLIAC victory at the NMU Soccer Field, dropping NMU to 1-3-0 in the league and 2-6-0 overall.
For Granstrand, the loss was disappointing, but the performance was not, he said.
"Today was a good day," Granstrand said. "There is a lot of character on this team. We're 2-6 now, yet we are competing. There's no dropping off. Tiffin is a good team."
With the score knotted at 2-2, Dragons senior forward Alexandra Sevastakis forced a turnover in the NMU zone and made for the Wildcat net. She fired a solid, but by no means rocket of a shot before reaching the penalty box - from about 27 yards out - and beat Wildcat redshirt freshman goalkeeper Shelby Conard to the far post.
The Wildcats took a 1-0 lead in the 44th minute on a successful penalty kick by senior defender Becky Fiorenza. The PK came from two Tiffin penalties, a foul from over 30 yards out and a handball in the penalty area off the set piece from the initial penalty.
Tiffin tied the game in the 45th minute, however, on a corner kick the 'Cats struggled to clear as the head of Tiffin's Hannah McMasters made it 1-1 at halftime.
The Dragons took a 2-1 lead in the 55th minute by stringing together a pair of passes inside the box for an easy shot on Conard, but the Wildcats tied the match back up with an Amelia Johnson goal in the 57th minutes.
Johnson leads the Wildcats in shots on goal this season, and has seen a number of quality scoring chances gone array on her home pitch in 2012.
Her breakaway Friday down the spectators' sideline early in the season half was the first chance to find the back of the net this year and Granstrand hopes its the start of a scoring streak for his senior.
"(Johnson) is always hard working and always dangerous," Granstrand said.
"She is doing a bit of double duty this year. I'm playing her a little more out wide. It's not a fun job. It's a lot of work and a little less touches with the ball maybe.
"Hopefully this opens it up a little bit and she gets some more chances. She obviously has the ability."
The Wildcats previous five losses all came via shutouts, while both wins came with the 'Cats scoring a pair of goals.
Partially due to a lack of offense and partially due to a number of injuries on the back line, Granstrand moved his team from a sliding formation of four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards to an attacking 4-5-1 formation this week, giving the women only a few days of practice with the scheme.
"It's a new formation for us, but I think we were able to adjust well," Johnson said. "It's very taxing on our players, but I think that's good. We all know what our rolls are. I think it will work well."
Late in the game Friday and desperate to get the game-tying goal, Granstrand got even more aggressive with an attacking 3-5-2 formation and sophomore backup goaltender/midfielder Nicole Musi in goal, hoping the foot-friendly keeper could restart the attack quicker than the sure-handed Conard.
The pressure increased, but the equalizer never came as the Dragons improved to 7-1-1 all-time against the Wildcats and 5-0-0 in Marquette.
"The new formation I think will work for us," Granstrand said. "We'll keep getting better at it and hopefully finish one or two more chances and change our luck around."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.