It’s the dawn of a new season for Michigan women’s soccer.
When they play host to Eastern Michigan on Friday, the Wolverines will look not only to start the season off with a win, but maintain an all-time record that doesn’t include a loss against the Eagles, who have only tied Michigan twice in nine matches.
The last meeting between the two schools was in 2013, when the Wolverines edged Eastern Michigan, 2-1, thanks to then-senior midfielder Meghan Toohey’s goal with less than one minute to go in overtime.
Both teams may have changed drastically since that matchup two years ago, but the expertise on the Eagles’ roster and coaching staff stands out.
“They have very good coaches,” said Michigan coach Greg Ryan. “They’re very well organized, and very disciplined. … It’s a huge game for them because they’re playing Michigan. Every time we play Eastern Michigan, I feel like they’re playing the game of their lives. They’ve got a lot of pride on the line, and it’s up to us to meet that with equal or higher intensity. They fight us tooth and nail every time we step on the field, so I’m not expecting anything different on Friday night.”
Ryan expects the Wolverines to do just that.
“We’ve got our heads on very straight,” Ryan said. “We’re very confident (with) the way we’re playing, and just having that confidence going into that first game is really important so that you calm the nerves. … Our feet are on the ground. I think we know, to get any win this year, we’re going to have to put in a fantastic effort each time we step out on the field. That’s being communicated from our captains, through every member of the team and from the coaching staff.
“I think between the fact that we’re actually pretty good, the confidence that we carry with us this year that we had none of last year and the fact that we’re going to fight out there for every square inch of grass — it’s the best formula for success.”
Following last week’s 3-1 exhibition victory over Ohio State, Michigan showed those in attendance how quickly the team’s chemistry has come together since practice began early August. But the Wolverines are still focusing on what needs fixing, specifically adjusting to high- and low- tempo styles of play and working on set plays.
“We scored two goals against Ohio State on corner kicks, so those set plays are huge,” Ryan said. “Continuing to improve those when we’re both defending set plays and when we’re attacking set plays is going to be huge for us this year.”
Set plays could be a strength for Michigan as it welcomes back junior forward Nicki Waldeck, redshirt sophomore midfielder Ani Sarkisian and senior midfielder Corrine Harris — all three of whom combined to score 34 total goals last year. Placing those three moving alongside offensive attackers like freshman midfielder Abby Kastroll, who scored a goal in the win against Ohio State, will be a tough task for defenses to handle throughout the season.
“We’ve got the same group to work with for a year and half, basically,” Ryan said. “They’ve matured so much. We’ve got all the people who scored goals. We got a lot of people who get points on this team. Plus our freshmen our adding into our scoring. … (Forward) Reilly Martin is looking dangerous. (Defender) Sura Yekka is getting for it and putting some great balls in front of the net. I feel like our potential to score goals is much much higher this year.
“When we hit our first game, we’ll be as good as we can possibly be this early in the season, but we have just got to keep growing with each game we play.”