- Patrick Barron/Daily
By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 16, 2012
We all have to start somewhere.
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Haley Kopmeyer stepped under the overhang of the auxiliary brick building alongside the Michigan field hockey field. She crossed her arms as the rain dripped off her jacket. Her nerves were as bad as mine.
It was Oct. 27, 2009, and Kopmeyer, then a redshirt freshman goalkeeper, was the lone bright spot for the Michigan women’s soccer team.
Ryan Sosin, the team’s sports information director, had suggested the story — my first article at the Daily — given that Kopmeyer had collected two Big Ten Rookie of the Week honors in as many weeks and had tied the program’s freshman record for shutouts.
Kopmeyer leaned against the brick façade of the building that the women’s soccer team used as its locker room as the U-M Soccer Complex was being built. There were no soccer fields in sight. The team’s practice field was the outfield of the baseball diamond at Ray Fisher Stadium.
The questions were horribly bland, and the answers weren’t much better.
I saved everything back then. I saved my notepad, though I forgot to actually write anything down. I saved the audio recording. I saved every version of the story the editors back at the Daily made that night.
But I always wanted to try it again.
On Tuesday, I got that chance. Kopmeyer, a Troy, Mich. native, laughed when I recounted the story.
“Thanks for giving me another try,” I said.
“Absolutely,” Kopmeyer responded. “Four years later, right?”
A few years sure changes a lot.
The story of the Michigan women’s soccer team can’t be told without explaining its foundation. The foundation, meaning the pristine pitch built as the centerpiece of the U-M Soccer Complex.
The transformation started when Ryan, coming directly off a three-year stint as head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, sat down to interview for the head coaching vacancy at Michigan.
He was told that an overhaul was coming, and Michigan soccer was getting a new home farther down State Street.
In February 2008, Ryan took the job and the promise. He quickly wrapped up a recruiting class that included Kopmeyer and current fifth-year senior Clare Stachel. Then he went looking for the next year’s class.
But he had nothing to show off.
Since the building of Glick Field House displaced the soccer programs from their original location and hiccups in the construction process had delayed the building of the U-M Soccer Complex, the Wolverines had nowhere to call home.
The new stadium down State Street lay dormant.
“There was some issue with permits and frogs,” Kopmeyer said.
“Some environmental issue.”
Some home games were held on Eastern Michigan’s campus, others were at Canton High School.
“We played a night game under the lights (in Canton) and I looked up to see four telephone poles with about six bulbs on each one,” Ryan said. “You could hardly see the ball.”
And practices? He gave an embarrassed laugh.
“Rich Maloney pitched in,” he said.
Maloney, then the Michigan baseball coach, gave Ryan the keys to Ray Fisher Stadium. The Michigan women’s soccer team practiced on the outfield grass.
Michigan went 4-10-5.
He finally pulled together a class of eight freshmen. Only one — redshirt junior defender Holly Hein — stuck around.
“Our first recruiting class was basically Holly Hein because we had almost zero money left to recruit with that year,” Ryan said.
The home games that season were played on a muddy practice field next door to the U-M Soccer Complex construction zone.
It was a fabricated fútbol atmosphere, but Michigan had nothing better to offer.
Ryan hired a drummer to take a seat on the sidelines by the practice field at home games. He’d drill a steady rhythm for two hours, collect his pay and leave. The drummer looked like a fanatic, but he was just doing his job.
“We were just trying to do anything to make it a bit more exciting,” Ryan said.
Michigan went 6-9-5.
Ryan was ready, the project’s completion was in sight. He blanketed the nation and even crossed the border to look for top-tier recruits across North America. His pitch was a promise.
“We recruited some of the top players from around the country and international players with the promise that the stadium was going to be there when they showed up in 2010,” Ryan said.