By Steven Braid, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 18, 2011
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That seems to be the theme of this year’s Michigan women’s soccer team as they approach their season opener against Akron.
“They’re really having fun and they’re enjoying it,” Michigan coach Greg Ryan said. “We’ve been building and building and building — this is my fourth year now — since I’ve been here. Its funny, the first talk that I had with them this year, I said, ‘I think this is going to be a lot of fun.’ They told me that this is the first year that I’ve ever said that."
With the season nearly underway, the Wolverines will have to work hard to meet their lofty expectations.
Coming off a heartbreaking loss in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament to No. 6 Oklahoma, Michigan will be aiming higher this fall. Redshirt junior captain Clare Stachel and the rest the Wolverines have the sights set on achieving a much bigger accomplishment.
“A lot of us are aiming for a Big Ten Championship this year,” Stachel said. “I think we have a really strong team to go for it. And we’re definitely going to get back to the (NCAA) Tournament. We’re not going to backwards on that.”
But if the Wolverines are feeling any pressure, they certainly aren’t showing it.
Ryan has been thoroughly impressed by the amity and joy that his players have displayed throughout training camp and preseason.
He maintains that the experience that his club gained last season is a big reason for their cohesion. With a significant part of his playing rotation back from last year, including five fourth-year players, Ryan credits his returners with seamlessly integrating the first-year players into the team.
“I’m very excited,” Ryan said. “Training has been going very, very well. The players are gelling really quickly. For the first time since I’ve been here, we have a lot of returners that are in the starting lineup and its really helped things come together quickly for us.
“I’ve got a talented group of players. They’re great kids and they get along so well. They are very cohesive and they’re having a lot of fun.”
While the Wolverines will be returning several key contributors from a squad that finished 10-5-4, they have also welcomed a talented freshman class. Almost half of their team is newcomers.
But despite 10 of their players having to adjust to new surroundings and new teammates, Michigan is showcasing an impressive solidarity and passion on the field.
The team’s great chemistry might have something to do with that.
Sophomore Tori McCombs attributes her enjoyment on the field to the unity of the team. McCombs expressed that she’s able to play much more relaxed because she knows that her teammates are supporting her and will help pick her up if she makes a mistake, making the game much more enjoyable for her.
“One of Greg’s big things is making us a team and making us work together,” McCombs said. “We’ve done so much team bonding on and off the field. Our captains have worked so hard to get us to know each other so well.
“It’s comfortable playing with (everyone) because I know that no matter what, they’ll be backing me up and making the runs. You have a great support system with people like Clare Stachel running on the outside and our midfielders Courtney Mercier and Meghan Toohey. No matter what, they’re backing you up and its just good knowing that on and off the field, you have that closeness with them. The team chemistry is amazing and I think everything is going very well.”
Ryan recognizes that the hard-working yet enthusiastic atmosphere that his team has created will only lead to good things.
With a talented and experienced squad, the Wolverines should be able to continue their improvement and build upon their win total from last year, which should only enliven the environment.
“I think its great that we now have enough experience and talent to really enjoy the game and play well. They’re really excited about how well they’re doing and how well they’re looking. I think it’s going to be a good year for everybody.”