Women’s soccer looks to find connection in exhibition vs. Western Michigan

By Brad Whipple, Daily Sports Writer
Published August 7, 2014

The Michigan women’s soccer team can no longer ride its seven seniors like it did last year, all the way to the Elite Eight.

So coach Greg Ryan has recruited 11 fresh faces. And to him, past seasons “don’t really matter.”

Forget shattering records en route to the Elite Eight — what happens next matters most. And though the new roster is primarily young, it could pack a powerful punch alongside its seasoned veterans.

“Every year is unique, and I think that’s the first thing we go into the season with,” Ryan said. “It’s an amazing period, and I’m really excited about it. I haven’t had to do this in a long time. I’ve never had to do this at Michigan, where I just had all these talented players but wasn’t quite sure what they could all do.”

Beside Ryan’s concern with how to effectively utilize his players’ skill, he made clear that the main focus this season is to create a connection between players both on and off the field. Ryan recognized this year’s senior captains — defender Chloe Sosenko and midfielder Jen Pace — for taking on that leading role. The Aug. 2 International Champions Cup match between Real Madrid and Manchester United at Michigan Stadium allowed the players to spend more time together.

Four days later, the Wolverines returned to practice, the same day they earned the No. 7 spot in the NSCAA Preseason National Poll.

Ryan feels excited to have so many options, all of which are in great health — even sophomore forward Madisson Lewis has finally recovered from a broken foot and is back to 100 percent. Potential has also surfaced in sophomore forward Nicky Waldeck, whom Ryan raved about during the spring season as the most improved player.

The team returns four players who started 10-plus games last season — Lewis, Sosenko, sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Bucklin and junior defender Christina Ordonez — bandaging the fact that seven starters are now gone. The new talent and holes in the lineup have created a lot of competition early in the season.

“It’s a good change because everyone knows that since Shelina (Zadorsky) and Holly (Hein) aren’t there anymore, those spots are available,” Sosenko said of the evolving defense. "Players are fighting for those spots and pushing each other to be better. We’re going to have to figure that out and work as a unit.”

Sosenko, meanwhile, is filling an important leadership role alongside her classmate Pace. She doesn’t feel any added pressure as a captain, knowing her three years at Michigan have built her confidence enough to take on the responsibility.

Wednesday, Michigan has a chance to set the tone for the season when the Wolverines head to Kalamazoo for an exhibition match against Western Michigan. It’s also an important time for Ryan to see which systems work best and a time to test both inexperienced and unproven players.

In last year’s exhibition match, Michigan defeated the Broncos 5-0 at home. But Western Michigan later advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament as MAC Tournament champions, proving the Broncos are a fair opponent.

“It’s going to be a very difficult game for us,” Ryan said. “Any time we play another team from Michigan, it’s always a tough game for us. These guys are not only good, but they look at us as like ‘OK, let’s knock them off.’ ”