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A caffeine injection? Northern Michigan University gets jolt at halftime on way to 2-1 win over Northwood in GLIAC women’s soccer quarterfinal

Northern Michigan University's Rachael Erste, middle of the group at left, celebrates her goal with teammates during the second half of a GLIAC Tournament women's soccer quarterfinal match played against Northwood on Tuesday at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

“I didn’t even know I scored until I saw somebody celebrating.” — Rachael Erste, NMU junior, on her semi-bicycle kick goal that made it 2-0

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MARQUETTE — For the first half Tuesday afternoon, it looked as if the unusual early start at noon was causing the Northern Michigan University women’s soccer team to fall asleep.

Eventually, though, the Wildcats’ offense got a jolt and perked up.

NMU scored twice in the second half just four minutes apart, then withstood a late charge to defeat Northwood 2-1 in the GLIAC Tournament quarterfinals.

Northern Michigan University's Rachael Erste, center, falls backward as she manages to kick the ball into the back of the net for a goal during the second half of a GLIAC Tournament women's soccer quarterfinal match played against Northwood on Tuesday at the Superior Dome in Marquette. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

The Wildcats (7-2-1) now move on to the semifinals for the first time since 2010.

When asked what turned things around for his team, Northern head coach Jon Sandoval said the Wildcats simply realized that they had to play better.

“I think we just challenged them and I think they were aware that it wasn’t good enough from the beginning,” he said. “And they knew that. That’s why they got into a little bit of a circle here and talked about it and what we basically told them was good teams always find a way, even when they’re playing bad.

“And in particular, too, whatever they talked amongst themselves and whatever they decided they need to fix, it didn’t mean anything unless they went out there and actually did it. So in the second half, we were able to see it and they were able to execute it and some players definitely stepped up.”

NMU was outshot 5-2 in the first half with its scoring chances being snuffed out by the Timberwolves. However, things started to come together shortly after the teams reassembled on the field following intermission.

After Northern’s Stephanie Trujillo was stopped twice by Northwood goalie Bridget Adams, the second one on a diving save, Wildcats midfielder Caroline Halonen got the ‘Cats on the scoreboard in the 57th minute when her free kick went off Adams’ outstretched hands and into the net to make it 1-0.

Halonen said the Wildcats knew things weren’t going well and they had the ability to get back on track, and when the second half began, things started to go well.

“I think we just always like this whole game even, the first half was a little bit sloppy,” she said. “Like we knew we could put the ball in the back of the net. So after the first half, we just kind of settled down a little bit and then we were able to go at them and create better chances in the second half.”

Just over four minutes later, NMU struck again on a crazy goal by Rachael Erste. A free kick from Brooke Pietila sailed to the left side of the goal where Erste fell backward trying to cut it off, but managed to pull off a semi-bicycle kick that went past Adams and made it 2-0 Wildcats.

“I kind of was just running and it was kind of like a super awkward angle, so I just kind of tried to bike it and kind of just tried to put my body into it,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t even know I scored until I saw somebody celebrating and then I looked around and was like ‘Oh my gosh.’ It was awesome.”

Northern had two more chances to pad its lead, but Caitlyn Trombley’s shot just went over the crossbar in the 80th minute, and in the 87th minute, Andrea Sekloch’s shot was barely saved by Adams.

The Timberwolves cut their deficit to one with just 1:02 left on a tally by Jessica Piper. But it was a rally cut short by the clock.

When asked what this win means for a program that has struggled the last few years, Erste said it meant everything.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “I’m a junior this year, so it’s been a tough last couple of seasons. It was a total turnaround. The energy on the team is great and it feels so good to finally win this game and move on to the semis. It’s a new feeling, really, and it’s awesome.”

The tourney No. 3 seed Wildcats will travel to Big Rapids for the league semifinals and finals to be hosted by No. 1 seed Ferris State. NMU plays tourney No. 2 seed Ashland on Friday at a time to be determined. The championship game is set for Sunday, again at a time to be determined.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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