- Chris Dzombak/Daily
By Steven Braid, Daily Sports Writer
Published September 12, 2011
What redshirt junior goalie Haley Kopmeyer showcased this past weekend against Western and Central Michigan wasn't an aberration. After allowing only one goal against two offensively dynamic squads, she has cemented herself as one of the Big Ten's best.
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She swallows any shot low enough to catch, and her athleticism and leaping ability make it easy for her to punch shots high.
Kopmeyer’s ability in net is good enough in her own right to make the Michigan women's soccer team a solid defensive team. But even the best goalies need help — enter the rest of the Wolverines.
On the rare occasions that Kopmeyer is out of position to make a save or when she makes a mistake, her teammates are there backing her up and helping her in the net.
“It’s awesome that they’re going to be there too, right behind me, and that no one wants a goal to go in,” Kopmeyer said. “It's something we always talk about and work on at practice. You don’t realize how important the little things are until it happens in a game.”
After suffering a season-ending injury in her first year on campus, Kopmeyer has anchored a stifling defense ever since her return. In 44 career games, she has helped the Wolverines hold opponents to just about a goal per game.
She has improved every year since her arrival, and this year seems to be her finest so far from a statistical standpoint. With 46 saves and three shutouts already, she is on pace to break her career-high of 95 saves and six shutouts in one season set two seasons ago.
She also is on pace to set career highs in save percentage (.868) and goals-against average (0.875).
“(Kopmeyer's) a really good leader for all of us,” sophomore defender Kayla Mannino said. “She has a lot of experience and I know that a lot of younger girls, myself included, really look up to her.”
But as much as she has proven to be a steady hand in goal for her teammates, they have provided her with just as much support from the field.
On more than one occasion against the Wolverines, the Broncos and Chippewas appeared to have caught Kopmeyer out of position. Each time, Michigan position players were there to back Kopmeyer up and save a goal.
Late in the game against Western Michigan, a Bronco shot slipped through Kopmeyer’s hands in the heavy rain. Unquestionably heading for the back of the net, the ball was corralled and cleared by sophomore forward Tori McCombs, who was backing up Kopmeyer in case a situation just like that happened.
Then, midway through the first half on Sunday, the Chippewas headed a corner kick at what appeared to be a brief opening left by Kopmeyer. This time, sophomore forward Meghan Toohey played goalie as she made a kick save. The play allowed the Wolverines to maintain the lead and proved to be an incredibly important save as the two teams played to a draw.
For the Wolverines, it's not out of the ordinary for forwards to chip in on defense. Michigan coach Greg Ryan is a firm believer in bringing extra players back to help out on defense.
“Any ball that’s hit at the goalkeeper, we’re all going back to help,” Ryan said. “It's something you’ve got to do and if you don’t, eventually she’s going to drop one. On Friday, you saw (a shot) went through and Tori cleared it out from behind her. It’s just part of good defending.”
According to Ryan, Michigan prepares for those types of circumstances in practice on a daily basis. They work on defending set pieces from long distances and corner kicks, ensuring their defenders and forwards are equally prepared to help out Kopmeyer when called upon.
Ryan also expressed that the team's best defense has yet to come. He understands that the season is young and that his roster is still bonding. At the moment, though, he’s satisfied with how Kopmeyer and the rest of the defense is playing.
“This a young defense and this is the first time they’ve been back there together,” Ryan said. “The training we’ve done with them has just been to help them understand how to work together as a unit. I think that’s going well right now.”