For most teams, the beginning of a new season comes with a mixture of expectation and uncertainty.
But for the Michigan women’s soccer team, excitement seems to be the dominant feeling.
After falling just shy of making the NCAA Tournament last season, the team graduated five seniors, but only one of those players consistently started, and 100 percent of the team’s goal scoring returned.
While veteran players are stepping up and taking on bigger roles, another contributing factor to the team’s current 5-3 record is its six freshmen, who have already made their presence felt.
All of the first-years, save for forward Kelly Sweeney – who tore her anterior cruciate ligament over the summer – have seen playing time. Midfielder Abby Kastroll, defender Sura Yekka and forward Reilly Martin have started.
“As a class, they’re a fantastic group,” Ryan said. “For those three, the sky’s the limit in potential. It’s very likely you’re going to see all three of them in the starting lineup as they continue to grow and develop.”
Yekka, an outside back on the Canadian National Team, has steadily filled that defensive position, something Ryan struggled to do last year.
Despite being sidelined, Sweeney also played on the international circuit this summer. A member of the U.S. U-20 National Team, she was predicted to be one of the top freshmen in this class.
Sweeney’s absence has left an offensive void, but it has allowed other players, like Kastroll and Martin, to step up.
“(Kastroll) has been the real surprise,” Ryan said. “I mean she’s just relentless out there. (She’s) leading the group in goals … (and) has made a huge, huge impact on her team already. (She’s) going to be a handful for opponents for four years.”
A native of Naples, Fla., Kastroll is excited to be in such a competitive environment.
“I’ve never been around so many people that love the game as much as I do,” Kastroll said. “As a freshman class, I feel like we came in ready to play.”
Martin has also proven herself on the field, starting in six of the eight games. She has netted two goals on the season, but Ryan is certain it won’t take long before the floodgates open.
“We’re really challenging her to do more in terms of goal-scoring production,” Ryan said. “We need to get her scoring more goals because she’s a fantastic goal scorer.”
Martin is focusing on earning her playing time and taking every opportunity that comes her way.
“I think my biggest worry was just trying to get out there on the field and earn playing time,” Martin said. “Each day at practice, we try to work as hard as we can (for a spot). It’s just such an honor being able to step onto the field and play for Michigan.”
Ryan has spoken highly of the final two freshmen, midfielders Jackie White and Ashley Calcagno, saying they have a bright future ahead of them.
As the Wolverines get ready to begin competing in Big Ten matches, the freshmen are focusing on the season ahead and continuing to integrate themselves into the team.
“Our connection to the team has come a long way,” Martin said. “We are such a talented team. They’re just an amazing group of girls – everyone is so supportive.”