Good players are adept at catching up quickly to make up for lost time after injury or other circumstances, but great players possess the ability to take an extended period of time off without missing a beat.
Michigan senior captain and defender Christina Murillo is in a category all her own after taking the entire 2014 season off to train with the Mexican National Team in preparation for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. It didn’t take her long to return to her position as an integral part of the Michigan women’s soccer team.
“It was an instant, perfect fit,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “It’s like when you put on a shoe and it’s just right — that was Christina Murillo on our back line. From day one, she’s done a great job of not only fitting in but also leading the rest of the team. If this was her first year, it would have taken longer, but since she knew all of the girls and played with them, it was seamless and effortless.”
Murillo credits the team’s response to her return and the experience she gained from national team training as key factors in her reintroduction to the rhythm of Michigan.
“It’s been fairly easy because of how the team has welcomed me back with open arms,” Murillo said. “In terms of school, it’s actually a lot easier to manage now because World Cup training is an environment where everything is about discipline and schedules. So I’ve been using the skills I’ve developed, where I incorporate a set time for everything, which allows me to be able to focus more at practice and be a better player at Michigan.”
As the leader of a defense that has produced four shutouts this season — including two in which it allowed just 11 shots combined against Nebraska and Iowa last weekend — Murillo was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week.
“Every time I’m playing, I’m doing whatever I can to help the team win that game,” Murillo said. “Our goal on defense is always to allow the least amount of shots, so I can really attribute our success as a defensive line to all four of us. It’s not just me, it’s the discipline of other starting players as well, so I’m just lucky to be in that defensive line.
“I don’t know if I necessarily deserve (it), because we wouldn’t have gotten those shutouts if it wasn’t for the other three players on our back line.”
Despite her modesty, Ryan fully recognizes the central role Murillo plays on the team.
“She definitely makes it all work at the back,” Ryan said. “She knows how to coordinate everyone, so she’s definitely the leader and organizer back there. She’s essentially the coach on the field, giving direction to the attack.”
In addition to her defensive prowess, Murillo is a key cog and frequent contributor on the offensive side of the ball, recording two assists in the opening weekend of Big Ten play.
“In the modern game of soccer, the way most teams are playing, your centerbacks touch the ball more than any other players,” Ryan said. “So when you have a centerback like Christina, who’s not only very comfortable with the ball in possession but who can also make those penetrating passes and create assists, you want her to have the ball as often as possible.”
Whenever a team loses an important player, there’s always a ripple effect on the mood and character of the rest of the team. The same is true when an important player returns to the fold. With the way Murillo is playing right now, the Wolverines couldn’t be happier to have her back in maize and blue for her senior season.