By Alejandro Zúñiga, Daily Sports Editor
Published August 16, 2013
Searching for offensive firepower? Look no further than the Michigan women’s soccer team. The 19th-ranked Wolverines completed their preseason schedule with a 4-1 dismantling of Dayton on Friday afternoon at the U-M Soccer Stadium.
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Though the regular season has yet to begin, Michigan’s fitness in its two exhibitions has already impressed coach Greg Ryan. After his team dominated the projected winner of the Atlantic 10, Ryan paid the Wolverines the ultimate compliment.
“I think it’s the best team I’ve ever had at Michigan,” he said. “I don’t want to graduate this class. I want to keep them forever.”
Michigan certainly played the part. Fresh off of a hat trick in the team’s first preseason match, senior forward Nkem Ezurike had little trouble asserting herself as the team’s most dominant attacker, but striker Corinne Harris stole the show with a trifecta of her own. After Ezurike was fouled in the 19th minute, the sophomore capitalized on the ensuing play by poking a low cross into the net to open the scoring early.
The Flyers soon equalized, but Harris — who scored just three goals in 2012 — again took matters into her own hands in the 38th minute after an Ezurike goal. Losing a defender with a quick turn, Harris fired a left-footed shot past the diving goalkeeper to put the Wolverines up by two.
“It was a good start,” Harris said. “Everyone is trying to find it within themselves to be that person that’s going to score. That’s my goal every game.”
A pair of spectacular finishes separated Harris’ first two tallies. In the 29th minute, Dayton midfielder Juliana Libertin pulled her team even with a long-range effort that curled inside the far upright. With a defender draped on her back, Ezurike responded five minutes later with a running header that put Michigan ahead for good.
Early after the halftime break, Harris completed her hat trick to seal the Wolverines’ victory. With the ball near the end line, she attempted a cross that was blocked back to her feet. The sophomore took advantage of the fortuitous bounce to coolly slot a shot by the near post.
“I was just in the right place, and I was able to get a good strike on it,” Harris said. “That was exciting.”
In their two exhibition games, the Wolverines outscored Western Michigan and Dayton by a combined 9-1. Freshman goalkeeper Taylor Bucklin started both games in net and played 140 minutes in all, surrendering just the lone goal on Libertin’s strike. Though junior Zaryn Jennings and sophomore Maddie Clarfield saw action for 20 minutes apiece, Ryan pegged Bucklin as the regular-season starter.
“We’ve given Taylor (Bucklin) the number-one spot,” Ryan said. “She’s earned it. She’s very, very mature for her year. She’s very steady, she’s very confident, she has a great kicking game.”
Michigan will kick off its regular season on Friday and doesn’t enter Big Ten play until late September. But a year removed from finishing third in the conference and coming painfully close to reaching the Elite Eight, the Wolverines’ goal is set in stone this fall.
“We want a Big Ten championship,” Harris said. “We think we have the team that can do it this year.”
If Michigan’s exhibition games and Ryan’s praises are any indication, that aspiration might not seem like much of a reach come November.