Michigan women’s soccer coach Greg Ryan wanted to lock up a starting goalie in preparation for Friday’s season opener.
After two exhibitions, it looks like he may just have her.
Freshman Taylor Bucklin will fill the role vacated by four-year starter Haley Kopmeyer. She played the first 70 minutes in each of Michigan’s two exhibition games, the latest a 4-1 victory over Dayton Friday at U-M Soccer Stadium. Ryan confirmed he will start the freshman when the season opens Friday against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“We’ve given Taylor the No. 1 spot, and she’s earned it,” Ryan said. “She’s very, very mature for her years. She’s very steady and very confident. She has a great kicking game. She has the ability to not just hit (balls) but find somebody.”
Kopmeyer holds the school record for career goals-against average, shutouts and saves and ranks No. 2 in wins. Replacing the Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year will be difficult, but Ryan said Bucklin is already making strides to get to where Kopmeyer was.
“If you could see Haley when she was a freshman and Taylor now, Taylor would be the starter now,” Ryan said. “Taylor’s already where Haley was in her third or fourth year.”
Ryan acknowledged that the improvement Kopmeyer made over four years was one of the best he’d seen, and he called her senior campaign “just phenomenal.”
Bucklin said she trained all summer and came to Ann Arbor in early August. She also played for the Canadian U-17 National Team, so she has experience at a high level.
She had most of the first half Friday to work with the starting back line of senior Shelina Zadorsky, junior Olivia Brannon, fifth-year senior captain Holly Hein and sophomore Sydney Raguse.
The Michigan defense will feature several adjustments in addition to Bucklin. Brannon, a transfer from Virginia, is coming off meniscus surgery. Raguse started only seven games last season, and true freshman Anna Soccorsi is also in the mix. Bucklin said she has only been on campus since early this month, when the team started practice.
Bucklin comes to Michigan out of Greenwich, Conn., where she was ranked the No. 6 goalie recruit in the Northeast. With only two exhibition starts under her belt, Ryan has given Bucklin high praise.
“Her positioning is so good, and her decision-making is so good,” Ryan said. “They had some hard shots from distance, which she held very cleanly. She’s been very consistent in all phases of the game.”
Bucklin also has senior captains Shelina Zadorsky and Holly Hein to work with in the back, giving Michigan some experience.The freshman goalie has started to gain chemistry with her team. Ryan noted, for example, that the defenders started to play balls back for Bucklin in Friday’s game.
“She understands that Holly and Olivia are good players and she can have the confidence to play to them,” Ryan said. “I think they’re showing a lot of confidence in her, because they’re playing balls back to her.”
“She’s doing awesome,” Brannon said. “All of the backs have a ton of confidence in her. She’s very communicative. You would not know she’s a freshman goalie.”
Bucklin didn’t face a shot on goal in Tuesday’s exhibition, but Friday, she made four out of five saves. Michigan took the lead for good with 11:12 left in the first half, so Bucklin worked comfortably for most of the afternoon.
Before Michigan put away Dayton, Bucklin was tested. The Flyers had two shots on goal in the first four minutes and another shot off the cross bar.
“We made her earn her living today,” Ryan said. “We didn’t start out well. They were cracking some at her. I was seeing her steal balls out of the corner against Nkem (in practice) that were really struck well because she cuts angles so well. She’s a very mature, well-coached keeper.”