Oct. 26, 2012
University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page, mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.
Around the world, soccer has always been considered the 'real football.' At Michigan, women's soccer is in the midst of 'real breakthrough.'
It has taken fifth-year head coach Greg Ryan and his staff time to rebuild the program, and this season the work is paying off. On Saturday (Oct. 27), the team will play its final regular-season home match when it hosts Illinois (U-M Soccer Stadium, 6 p.m.). This Wolverines have broken a number of records. Among those marks are the longest unbeaten streak, consecutive minutes without allowing a goal, and consecutive shutouts. Even though the regular season is ending, the postseason journey starts next week.
Still, this will be a special day, a special game. It is Senior Day, and for Ryan and the seniors who have been with him since day one, they are finally reaping the good after going through the bad and the ugly.
Fifth-year senior captains Clare Stachel and Haley Kopmeyer are the heart and soul of this team, and they have played an integral role in this team's resurgence. They committed to Michigan without knowing who their head coach would be, but when Ryan was hired, they bought into his long-term vision for the program. When rebuilding a program, a strong base is needed. These players have provided the foundation. Working with the coaching staff, they have showed commitment and leadership to keep this team together. They have helped this U-M team grow up.
As an example of how everyone contributes, 13 different players have scored 31 goals -- the highest offensive output in seven seasons. The defensive numbers speak for themselves, but those stats only ring true when a team concept is in place.
The path wasn't easy. In the first two years of Ryan's tenure, U-M won 10 matches. It had to play 'home games' at Plymouth Canton High School and at Eastern Michigan University as the new U-M Soccer Stadium was being readied.
After the stadium opened in 2010, the team's fortunes started to turn. The team won 10 games alone that season and qualified for NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. The team was set for a great 2011 season until adversity struck.
Eight different student-athletes missed time during the season due to injuries and illnesses. Holly Hein was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, Meghan Toohey suffered a season-ending leg injury midway through the year, and Emily Jaffe, who joined the varsity team after playing club, had to undergo an appendectomy. All three of these players were starters, and the team's momentum was temporarily halted. Despite the setback, the team never lost its focus.
This season those three players and the team's momentum have returned. Hein and Toohey have started every match this season while Jaffe has played in every game and has made 12 starts. Together, they have helped guarantee a top-three finish in the Big Ten for the first time since 2004, and U-M will take either a No. 2 or No. 3 seed into the conference tournament.
A win or draw against Illinois on Saturday would give Michigan its second undefeated regular-season home slate in program history. The first and only time that happened in program history was 1997.
This Senior Day can also be special for the fans. It will be the last time these seniors will take the home field for a Big Ten match. Show your support and gratitude to Clare, Haley, Emily and the entire team.
This has been a wonderful season. These seniors have not only helped this program become successful, they have provided a bright future for the sport here at Michigan.
Good luck on Saturday and throughout the postseason.