The Michigan women's soccer team has gone through a massive overhaul since last season, saying goodbye to a formidable senior class and welcoming in a studded freshman class that, with prior experience on state and nationally recognized teams, looks more like a composition of grizzled veterans than any traditional freshman class.
The Wolverines have a roster that, on paper, should indicate a smooth transition from what was a difficult season last year.
As Michigan prepares for its first exhibition match against Ohio State Wednesday, it seems appropriate to take a look at what the Wolverines have accomplished these past two seasons.
In 2013, the Wolverines finished the season 9-1-1 in the Big Ten and 18-4-1 overall. The season was highlighted by wins over then-No. 11 Penn state and a trip to the Elite Eight against then-No. 1 Virginia.
Last season, however, was not as successful. In 2014, Michigan’s Big Ten Tournament hopes were dashed after a first-round exit to Minnesota. The team failed to replicate its successful 2013 season, finishing 8-2-3 in the Big Ten and 12-5-3 overall with no NCAA Tournament appearance.
“(Last season), we were so young and inexperienced … I could see the kids didn’t have it in them to push past that,” said coach Greg Ryan.
Though 2014 didn’t bring the same success as 2013, last season’s team faced changes that would’ve made any soccer program frustrated.
“We had to change nine starting players last year,” said Ryan. “(Senior defender) Christina Murillo went to Mexico, (and senior defender Chloe Sosenko) was injured … It’s not only that we had nine new (starters), but we had nine (players) with very little experience.”
Without the injuries and lack of depth plaguing the team last season, the Wolverines hope to get back to the success of seasons past.
Michigan may have lost five seniors, including two captains — Sosenko and midfielder Jen Pace — but the Wolverines welcome back Murillo, who is returning after spending a year with the Mexican National Team.
Murillo will be inserted into a Wolverine offense that fired on all cylinders last season, scoring 34 goals in 21 games. The senior, who was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team in 2011, should strengthen Michigan’s high-powered offense with her play-making ability — she recorded eight assists in her time as a Wolverine.
“(Murillo) comes back with a lot of maturity and experience,” said Ryan. “It’s wonderful having her back. On the field, she’s like adding a professional to the team: She’s playing center back; she’s organizing the defense; she’s a great communicator and leader back there … And we’re able to play out of the back a lot better.
“She’s just got this level of composure that you don’t find with many college players.”
Murillo’s versatility will be explored, as she'll be playing at the back end alongside junior defender Anna Soccorsi.
Soccorsi, another versatile player, showcased her play-making ability last season. She recorded a clutch assist during the final minutes of regulation in Michigan’s 2-2 tie with Ohio State last October. Her biggest strength, however, is at the opposite end of the pitch, where she anchored a defense that gave up an average of one goal per game.
Senior midfielder Corinne Harris started all 20 games last season, showcasing her ability as both a play-maker and scorer. She contributed nine assists, three goals and 15 points en route to being named to the All-Big Ten Second Team.
“(Harris) is just (the) heart and soul of this team,” said Ryan. “I guess you could say the player that was the key for us last year, keeping us in (the) games, was (Harris).
Harris’ scoring instincts were complemented by junior forward Nicky Waldeck, who tallied a team-high 12 goals along with five assists. Waldeck finished last season named to the All-Big Ten First Team.
Though the program has a of a bevy of two-way players at any position, the incoming freshmen will be able to showcase some of what they've learned during their tenures with national teams.
Defender Sura Yekka, who's been with the Canadian National Team since 2013, and forward Reilly Martin, who's participated in the last four United States National Team camps, will add further depth to the program's roster. Yekka, who was a part of the under-15 Canadian National Team that took home a championship in 2012, and Martin, who was named an All-American her senior year, will both look to contribute steadily in their freshman year at Michigan.
Martin, who Ryan described as a "dangerous" player, is expected to make an impact in scoring for the Wolverines, while Yekka, a right back for the Canadian National Team, could potentially fill a new role for Michigan, as the entire back line is returning from last year.
But Martin and Yekka aren't the only incoming standouts. Midfielder Abby Kastroll has already made a big impression on the coaching staff for her grit.
"She’s come in, and you don’t want to play against her. She is a Wolverine; she’ll come in and bite your leg off," Ryan said. “I think she’ll come in and get a lot of minutes this year (because) she’s doing very well … (She’s) always a hard worker, and I think she’s taking it up another notch. She’s challenging our veteran players physically. You better be ready when you come to play against Kastroll, because she’ll fight you tooth and nail. I love her attitude. She’s very skillful and smart, the only thing she needs now is experience.”
The Wolverines look primed to start the season strong as the current roster is working to improve upon last year.
“I think we have the talent (to win the Big Ten),” said Ryan. “Our week-to-week goals are to prepare for the next game … When we do it and keep it simple, it’s gone pretty well.”