By Alejandro Zúñiga, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 9, 2013
In 2012, the Michigan women’s soccer team shut out more than half of the teams it played. With the addition of its newest member, finding the back of the Wolverines’ net might prove even more challenging next season.
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Michigan coach Greg Ryan announced the transfer of Olivia Brannon on Wednesday — one of the nation’s top defenders — into the program. A member of the United States National Team’s under-20 squad, Brannon comes from Virginia looking to improve a Wolverine defense that recorded 13 shutouts and allowed just 17 goals in 2012, both program bests.
“Olivia is going to be an impact player for us,” Ryan said. “Having Olivia join us will only make us stronger. It’s going to really solidify the defense and give us new tactical options.”
A graduate of Athens High School in Troy, Brannon was named the Gatorade Michigan State Player of the Year in 2011. After representing the United States in international competition at various age levels, she was Ryan’s most sought-after recruit and one of the top prospects in the country. But Brannon enrolled at Virginia, where she started all 24 matches as a freshman and earned ACC All-Freshman honors.
The Cavaliers were one of the nation’s best teams in 2012, but were upset by Duke in the Sweet 16 of this year’s NCAA Tournament.
“Our soccer program, at the time we were recruiting (Brannon), wasn’t nearly as strong as the University of Virginia’s,” Ryan said. “So she chose to go to Virginia.”
It’s not like that anymore. In 2012, the Wolverines finished third in the Big Ten and made a deep run into the NCAA Tournament, and the majority of that team will return next season. Brannon will likely line up alongside junior Shelina Zadorsky, an All-Big Ten defender who plays for the Canadian Women’s National Team.
The NCAA grants athletes — except those competing in football or basketball — a one-time transfer exception, which will allow Brannon to play immediately.
With the resurgence of the soccer program, a coaching staff that has succeeded at an international level and the Big Ten’s recent expansion into the East Coast, Ryan hopes Michigan’s appeal will keep vaunted recruits in-state in the future.
“We may see more like Olivia down the road,” Ryan said. “She wanted to come back home and play in her home state.”