Aug. 20, 2012
The Wolverines enter the 2012 season as the two-time defending Big Ten champions but will have an entirely different look after graduating all but three starters from last year's squad.
Among the notable returning players are junior Rachael Mack and sophomore Emy Guttman, who accounted for nearly half of Michigan's goal scoring in 2011, as well junior midfielder Ainsley McCallister and senior/junior goalkeeper Haley Jones. Jones owns a 20-5 career record in the U-M cage with a 1.55 goals-against average and .651 save percentage; she went 9-3 while splitting playing time last season.
More than half of Michigan's 2012 roster is made up of freshmen -- 11 true freshmen and three redshirts -- and many will be called upon for immediate contribution.
What are your expectations for the team?
"We're the two-time defending Big Ten champs, and we are always looking to make forward progress. So, it's our expectation as a staff and as a team to defend the Big Ten title. That is our expectation every year. It's Michigan. We should expect to win the Big Ten every year.
"We lost eight starters and two very important underclassmen from last year's team. So, we are basically going to be playing with a brand new team this season. But we think they can handle it. The beginning of the year might be more of a challenge, so our preparation may be a little more long term in that we're ready to go and really hitting all strides by October. That would be just in time to defend that conference championship."
What is the strength of this team?
"Our greatest strength, and where I think we are quite strong, is our attack. We have some very special, talented attackers and goal scorers that can really bury it. They are exciting to watch -- fast, skilled, can handle pressure well and can score the big-time goal."
What's the biggest challenge?
"Our challenges are in the defense, because we lost our entire backfield to graduation. So, everyone we have back there now has yet to play a game. The challenges lie in learning the system, being able to handle the pressure and being able to congeal and work together when they've never worked together as a unit before. Once we shore that up, I think we'll be quite good."
Does the abundance of freshmen change the coaching strategy or preparation?
"We're coaching our tails off this season. There's a lot to do, a lot more than normal. We have our arms full with so much feedback and so many things to actually tweak and improve. But that's fun. It's why we coach. Our players are smart. They work very hard, they're wonderful women with great character, and they're up to the challenge. I know they're going to be great.
"We have a couple of upperclassmen that are out with injuries right now. But we're embracing that as a positive. It gives the younger kids an opportunity to dive right into the deep end and get a lot of experience early. We'll be that much better for it, in terms of depth and versatility, come tournament time."
Who are some of the players that you expect to step up this season?
"We have a couple young women who redshirted last year, so they are sophomores academically and freshmen in terms of eligibility, and we're throwing them into the fire as starters. They're also some of the oldest players now. It's an awful lot to ask of a young person, who's just 19, to lead the team -- and we expect them to act and be able to lead like a fifth-year senior. But they're managing that and doing it quite well.
"It's good for them as young women and in their development. When student-athletes graduate from Michigan, they go off into the world and become high achievers, because we're asking a lot of them early in their lives. They rise to the occasion. We're preparing them for life. That's the whole point of intercollegiate athletics."