For the Michigan women’s soccer team, last season’s disappointing ending turned into a useful reality check.

The Wolverines (8-2-3 Big Ten, 12-5-3 overall) missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011, but it didn’t mean it was a total disaster of a season. In fact, head coach Greg Ryan still felt his team had exceeded expectations, considering the team needed to rebuild from square one with the loss of an eight-woman senior class.

But Michigan remains rough around the edges, and there’s a lot of room for improvement, mainly on offense. The Wolverines barely increased their shooting percentage last year compared to 2013, but that’s not as significant as the fact that they took 103 less shots.

During the second weekend of the season in California, the Wolverines were outscored 8-0 through two games in one weekend — an utter train wreck that threw the team on a spin. But Michigan recovered, winning nine out of the next 10 games and outscoring opponents 25-6.

That momentum sharply tapered off in mid-October, when Michigan suffered its first home loss since September 29, 2013. The Wolverines mustered three ties and only one win in their final four games.

Then, a loss in the Big Ten Tournament cemented Michigan’s season-ending fate. Road games had spelled disaster for the Wolverines, and they won just three all season, the fewest since 2008.

“We were really motivated (after the season ended),” said rising senior forward Corinne Harris. “That might sound weird, because it was obviously very upsetting to not have the season end the way we wanted to. But it was a huge feeling of ‘let’s not ever let this happen again.’”

With the road ahead, Michigan can’t afford to let it happen again.

After next Wednesday’s exhibition against Ohio State at UM Soccer Stadium, a slate of eight non-conference games kicks off the season, beginning at home on August 21 against Eastern Michigan. Wins in those eight games won’t come easy with the Wolverines facing Notre Dame and Washington on the road. The Fighting Irish and the Huskies were ranked No. 9 and No. 20, respectively, in the NSCAA Preseason Poll released on Monday.

Meanwhile, Michigan fell from the No. 7 spot last August to not even making the list this season.

Last year, coming off a 2013 Elite Eight euphoria, Harris knew the team would transform completely with the loss of its senior class. At the point, the top-10 ranking became irrelevant, and ultimately played no part in the team’s psyche. Now, with no rank at all, that hasn’t changed.

“The rankings will change no matter what,” Harris said. “They don’t matter. … If you get too caught up in the rankings, it’s easy to start thinking ahead and losing that focus that you need day-to-day to succeed. If you wanna look at them, fine, but don’t take them too seriously.”

Based on the current rankings, Michigan will play five ranked teams, three of which are conference opponents such as No. 6 Penn State, which handed the Wolverines its only home loss in 2014.

The Nittany Lions will once again be Michigan’s toughest opponent. The Wolverines have just two victories over Penn State in the last 13 years, and only one ever in Happy Valley. Unfortunately for Michigan, that’s exactly where the two will square off in the regular season finale on October 28.

The Wolverines’ road to beat their third-place conference finish last year begins the weekend of September 18 with a conference-opening homestead against Nebraska and Iowa on Friday and Sunday, respectively.

In some respects, Michigan will need to forget last year’s slow start and finish — new team, new focus. But Harris also thinks the unwanted ending will put things into perspective.

“I think a lot of players on the team didn’t experience (not doing as well as you wanted) before,” Harris said. “So I think that was a huge motivating factor going into the spring and made people want to get better. I’ve seen so much improvement from every single person on the team.

“(We) were able to make huge steps in the spring that we might not have otherwise.”

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