The Class That Changed a Program: Part Two
Holly Hein

Dec. 10, 2013

This is the second entry in a five-part series, a written account of their four-year tenure, straight from the players themselves. Today, the SOPHOMORE season.

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One of the biggest storylines of the sophomore season came before the season even started. In the preseason, Hein was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had the difficult task of telling her teammates about it. She played in just six matches before taking a medical redshirt, preserving an additional year of eligibility.

Holly Hein: Tori thought I was quitting.

Tori McCombs: I did! We had five people quit the season before that, and they all seemed to start the same way, "We have an announcement. It's very serious," and then you see Holly stand up there by herself. I knew you had a difficult time the previous year because you tore her ACL and everything, but I was like, "She better not quit."

Jen Pace (U-M Midfielder, 2011-13): I barely even knew her, yet in those moments, I already felt so close to her. I thought she was quitting, too. I thought, "She can't quit. She so good! She's so nice!"

Meghan Toohey: I just remember how my perspective shifted in a matter of five seconds. It had nothing to do with soccer. It had to do with life.

Shelina Zadorsky: I think we felt helpless, too, because it was such a big shock. I think I started crying instantly.

Hein: I probably didn't react well to that.

Chloe Sosenko (U-M Defender, 2011-13): I remember she yelled at me in practice that day. It was so unlike her. Then she came into the locker room afterwards and told us the news. It all made sense.

Kayla Mannino: Holly was comforting us instead of the other way around.

Haley Kopmeyer (U-M Goalkeeper, 2008-12): She was being so strong about it. As captains, you try to keep it together for your teammates. So many girls were crying that they had to turn around so Holly wouldn't see them, yet she stood up there in front of everyone and was just so positive and strong. It was a hard thing to experience, something you never think would happen in a million years.

Greg Ryan (Head Coach): My response was to wait and see how Holly took it. I have never seen anyone deal with something like that with more strength. And it gave everyone else strength to see Holly be able to deal with it, to play her six games and focus on what she could do for the team in those six games. She actually made it easy on everyone else even though we all knew it was a scary situation for anyone to be in.

Clare Stachel (U-M Forward, 2008-12): I wasn't even worried. I knew she would be fine because that's who she is. I had no doubt that she would be fine.

Hein: One of my favorite parts of that year was going up to Traverse City for preseason to train. That was really fun. I had found out about all that stuff beforehand and so just to be able to escape and hangout with all you guys for the week, it was just fun. Obviously at that point, we didn't know it was going to be a down year, but when we were just playing up there on some random high school field, we were good.

McCombs: Can I say something? Every time I had to run the beep test, I was thinking, "If Holly can get through cancer, I can get through this beep test."

McCombs & Toohey
Meghan TooheyTori McCombs

The first match of the season was against Akron on Aug. 19. Despite outshooting the Zips, 17-9, and placing nine shots on goal, Akron scored off a corner kick in the 40th minute and won, 1-0. It was not the start to the season that Michigan wanted.

McCombs: We were broken for like a day after that game, but we had to bounce back from it.

Zadorsky: Still as a freshman and sophomore, you don't realize how much certain wins and losses determine the end of your season.

Hein: That was a tough Greg moment. It was one of those games where he knew, and we didn't really understand.

McCombs: He didn't want to tell us straight up.

They rallied, however, going 6-1-1 in their next eight matches. A winless weekend against Minnesota and Wisconsin dampened things a bit (giving up three unanswered goals to the Golden Gophers in a 3-2 loss), but they went on the road the following weekend to snare wins at Iowa and Nebraska. Those wins weren't without a loss, though, as Toohey was lost for the season during the Iowa match after suffering a broken ankle.

Ryan: I think Meghan's injury was maybe the worst experience I've had during these six years here.

Kopmeyer: That was bad. The goalkeeper came out and made a real dangerous challenge. We talked for a long time about that play. The way she slid for it wasn't what we call "clean goalkeeper protocol." If she had touched the ball three inches wide, it would have been a red card, no doubt. That was tough.

Toohey: You saw how much support automatically our team gave as soon as it happened. I think that's the big difference. I don't ever remember thinking anything past that moment other than, "This hurts." There were so many people around me telling me that I was going to be fine. I don't know how else to describe it.

Hein: It's just the best group of people. You don't even really realize, you know, having cancer, tearing your ACL. It didn't really even cross my mind because of how everyone else was treating it. The general thought was, "You're going to be fine, you're going to get through it, and we're all waiting for you to come back. We're going to be with you the entire way through it."

Toohey: I don't think I ever thought negatively about it. I just knew I needed to get better. My teammates still had a season to play.

McCombs: Nkem (Ezurike) scored literally not 10 minutes after Toohey went down. There was a fire in her eyes.

Shelby Chambers-Garcia: The worst part about Toohey's injury -- other than her going through that -- was right when I heard you scream, I knew it wasn't good. Toohey doesn't go down. You've seen her play. We called her a hedgehog, a bowling ball; she runs through everyone. She doesn't get taken down. Ever. The hard thing for me, all these girls were on the field together. I was on the sidelines, and I couldn't go out there to comfort her with them. As soon as I heard her yell, I started crying knowing it wasn't going to be good. Here I am crying by myself. All I want to do is run out on the field and join my class, but I couldn't do that.

Sosenko: I came in for her and was completely overwhelmed with emotions. How was I supposed to fill her shoes? I didn't know what to do.

McCombs: I think you see how much we had each other's backs. Clare and Nkem were closest to Toohey so they got to her first. I think at one point, she was so delirious that they even had her laughing. Kayla, Shelina, KG (Kristen Goncalves) and I marched right by Toohey right up to the Iowa goalkeeper. I think that's just amazing to see how protective we are of each other.

Stachel: All of us knew it was probably pretty bad. There was no way in hell we were losing that game after she basically sacrificed herself trying to win it.

Ryan: The doctors told us that this was the kind of injury that you may not come back from, but we knew if anyone was going to come back, it would be Meghan Toohey. I think she's proven us right.

Toohey: Schecky (Megan Schechtman) left the game to come to the hospital with me. I don't know what I would have done if she wasn't there. Greg, Nate [Boyden] and Tina [Scully] came after the game was over, but that was a long period of time, and she left the game to come with me. I was so grateful.

McCombs: And KG was wearing Holly's No. 21 jersey.

Hein: It was weird. That was the weekend I had my surgery. I was at home with my mom watching the game. I turned it on at a really bad time, right when all that was happening. I was like, "What's going on?" I couldn't be out there doing the thing I wanted to do, so to have someone wear my jersey and play for me, play for Michigan and rally around everyone, it meant a lot.

Mannino & Chambers-Garcia
Kayla ManninoShelby Chambers-Garcia

The Wolverines were short-handed most of the season. Eight players were lost along the way due to various injuries and illnesses. It started to take a toll.

Sosenko: One game, Greg told me to go in at holding midfielder. I literally played a new position every game because someone new went down.

Ryan: It was one of those years. That happens probably once every 20, and this was ours.

Hein: We got [Emily] Jaffe, too, and she ended up having to get her appendix removed.

Emily Jaffe (U-M Midfielder, 2011-12): As soon as I walked on the team, they were the most inviting and welcoming people. My first practice, Tori walked up and introduced herself to me and we were friends right away. The first game I started, I was in the midfield with Toohey, and I just remember being so scared. Throughout the whole game, Toohey always reassured me and let me know that she had my back no matter what. That's what stands out about this group of girls.

Chambers-Garcia: The funniest thing about that, didn't she go through [appendicitis] by herself? She didn't call anyone. She had this excruciating pain, went through the night with it and then decided to go to the hospital. Tina was like, "Why didn't you call me?"

Jaffe: I was still shy and awkward. I didn't think it was a big deal. I remember Kayla had the flu at practice when I was sick and thought if she could get through it, so could I. In retrospect, I should have called Tina much sooner.

Ryan: We were preparing for Ohio State, and we get the news that she goes in for an appendectomy. We're like, "Could anything else happen to this team?"

Following that road trip to Iowa and Nebraska, things began to spiral downward. The Wolverines were 8-3-2 and 3-1-1 heading into an Oct. 8 home match against a Northwestern team with just one win. But an own goal was the difference in a 1-0 loss. From there, Michigan lost four of its last five matches to finish 9-8-2 and miss the postseason.

Kopmeyer: We got home from that last game, and nobody got off the bus. Right then and there, nobody wanted to be in that position again. We really quickly got everything together and set a precedent for how we were going to train and what our expectations were going to be.

Ryan: We talked about the things that would be required if we wanted to put ourselves in a position to not only make the NCAA Tournament but to move on. We did a survey and got all their opinions and really built the next two years off that in terms of how we train, the amount of video we show, how we interact and the standards we set. That was set by that group of players.

Zadorsky: I think we really learned what we didn't want. I think we experienced it all in one season, losing multiple people, the ball not going out way, losing quite a few games. Now, I wouldn't change it, because I feel like we grew so much from that.

Stachel: Everything was different from that point on. No way was I going to let that happen again. It wasn't that we lost the season. It was that we didn't live up to our potential.

Toohey: I was thinking, too, that more than anything, sophomore year was like, you come in as a freshman, and you have this awesome program, this achievement. Then sophomore year happened, and I feel like it set in how much everything meant the year before and how you wanted to get back there.

Chambers-Garcia: I feel like our freshman year was the biggest learning point for us, but the real pivotal point for us was that sophomore year. After having such a successful year with how young we were, it was almost assumed. With how young and naïve we were, we maybe didn't think we could get any worse than the year before, and that was a turning point. It's not given. We do have to fight for everything we get.

McCombs: You realize that every year isn't the same team.

Nkem Ezurike: And how quickly things go south. It's about mentality, to make sure things like that never happen again.

Chambers-Garcia: We weren't used to losing like that.

McCombs: I also think it brought us closer. A lot of the veterans were out, and that made the freshmen have to step up. Chloe [Sosenko] and Jen [Pace] were trying to fill Toohey's spot in the midfield, and they did a great job, but with that, too, we depended a lot on our freshmen, and I think that made the bond stronger off the field.

Hein: It was another moment where it shows how big of a family we are. It wasn't a great season. A lot of things happened, but you see how much people cared about each other. It definitely fired us up for the next year. We knew we had the potential.

Ezurike & Zadorsky
Nkem EzurikeShelina Zadorsky

» Tomorrow (Wednesday): Junior Year (2012)
» Monday: Freshman Year (2010)

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