- Adam Glanzman/Daily
By Jason Rubinstein, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 14, 2013
Just one year ago, the Michigan women’s soccer team was excluded from the 2012 NCAA women’s soccer preseason rankings, hinting that another subpar season was on the horizon. But it proved its doubters wrong en route to one of its most successful seasons in program history, compiling a 16-5-3 record and ultimately earning a NCAA Sweet 16 bid.
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The Wolverines put years of mediocrity in the past, establishing themselves on the national stage. Now entering his sixth year as head coach, Greg Ryan’s new team begins the season ranked No. 19 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America preseason poll.
Last year’s ranking did little to change the expectations, and that same could be said of this year.
“(The ranking) is a tribute to the players last year and their tremendous job,” Ryan said. “Rankings are nice, but it puts a target on our backs and other teams will shoot for us to knock off a ranked team. What it really means is that we have to be better than last year and have to play harder.”
It’s clear success looms in the future for this year’s Wolverines. Veteran leadership combined with young talent has the potential to earn Michigan a trip to North Carolina, the site of the NCAA Championship, in late December.
But Michigan can’t help but notice the game versus Penn State. The Nittany Lions defeated the Wolverines in penalty kicks to eliminate Michigan from the NCAA tournament. Each time the two squads faced off the match ended in a draw.
Added Hein: “It would mean a lot (to beat Penn State). They are the number one team to beat this year. They have won so many Big Ten championships and we want one of those.
“We’re going to get a win against them this year and we know that.”
With that ranking in mind, The Daily breaks down the 2013 season, position by position.
The Wolverines return nine starters, highlighted by their top goal scorer, senior forward Nkem Ezurike — who already netted a hat trick in Tuesday’s 5-0 exhibition win over Western Michigan. Last year, Ezurike was an All-Big Ten first-team selection even after she missed the first four matches of the season playing for Canada at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
Ezurike, who will be sure to draw added defenders because of her exceptional speed and size, has learned to adapt to the extra attention that comes with the role.
“You just have to play your game basically,” Ezurike said. “I try not to focus on who’s around me, really, just play simple and connect with my teammates.”
But it doesn’t end with Ezurike, who was No. 21 in TopDrawerSoccer.com’s National Top 100.
Sophomore Corrine Harris stepped in during Tuesday’s exhibition and came out faster and more aggressive than the rest of the field, pushing the ball down and spreading the field as opposed to shooting from distance. Harris was named to the All-Big Ten freshmen team last year after she scored three goals and added five assists in 19 starts.
Michigan will look to utilize freshman Maddison Lewis’s speed to create more chances for Ezurike by spreading the field and taking defenders away from her. Tuesday’s exhibition against Western Michigan provided a glimpse at how successful the offense can be with a an extra forward.
Lewis, who was a member of the United States U-17 Women’s National Team player pool, was named the Gatorade Michigan State Girls Soccer Player of the Year. The freshman registered two assists in her first game with the Wolverines.
“(Lewis) is an exceptionally fast forward and a very confident finisher,” Ryan said. “We will get her more chances and she will score more goals.”
Michigan’s midfield corps should remain intact as all four starters return this year. The loss of former fifth-year senior Clare Stachel means the lose of veteran leadership and all of three goals last year, but the midfield should still be loaded with experience.
Senior captain Meghan Toohey will lead the midfield after she was named a member of the All-big Ten second team last year. Toohey recorded three goals and six assists in 2012, but her most important contribution will be providing durability year round, giving Ryan one less thing to worry about.
Junior Christina Murillo and senior Kayla Mannino are also expected to see time as starters this season, both of whom should benefit from more time playing alongside the same teammates.