Correction appended: The soccer photograph should have been credited to Emma Nolan-Abrahamian.
The Big Ten women’s soccer season isn’t big. It’s huge.
And Big Ten games aren’t just games.
“Big Ten games build rivalries,” junior Melissa Dobbyn said. “It’s a whole new season, a second season.”
Michigan (0-1-0 Big Ten, 4-4-2 overall) hopes it fares better in its second season than its first. The Wolverines ended their nonconference schedule by losing three of four games.
But Michigan coach Debbie Rademacher knows that the Big Ten brings increased anticipation and more focus.
“Every game makes a difference,” Rademacher said. “If you want to be the Big Ten champion, you need to win at least eight games in the Big Ten.”
The importance of playing well in the Big Ten season is simple. Only the top eight teams make the Big Ten Tournament, where the winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. In order to get an at-large bid, a team must have an overall record above .500.
An NCAA berth is bound to be on the mind of any team. But right now, it’s all about the Big Ten for the Wolverines.
“It’s so early in the Big Ten season that it’s too early to think about the NCAA Tournament,” Rademacher said. “We just need to focus on playing well and improving each game.”
Dobbyn, Michigan’s biggest offensive threat, and senior goalkeeper Megan Tuura said the team must play better if it wants any shot at making either tournament.
“We need to start scoring some goals,” Dobbyn said. “But our defensive presence is there, a total 180 from last year.”
With Tuura guarding the net, it’s nearly impossible to score against the Wolverines. In her first seven games prior to sustaining a shoulder injury against Notre Dame, Tuura let just two balls get by her. Tuura missed the last two games, but hopes to play Friday.
“We are playing as a unit defensively,” Tuura said. “We just need to combine the rest of the team, get close and come together.”
The team’s optimistic leaders will have to put the pedal to the medal on Friday, when the Wolverines face off against Purdue.
Last season, Michigan lost 1-0 to the Boilermakers. Purdue is a strong physical team that will test the Wolverines’ defense. Two days later, Michigan plays Indiana, which beat the Wolverines 2-1 last year.
“The fact that we have them at home, two teams who are at the top of the Big Ten, there’s a lot to play for, and we feel we can do well against these teams,” Rademacher said.
The Big Ten season also brings out more competitiveness in the Michigan players.
“People from the Midwest in general are in the Big Ten,” Tuura said. “That makes it more personal. We also know them better and can prepare for them better.”
The Wolverines know the Big Ten season is what makes or breaks a team’s season.
“Our goal is to be the Big Ten champions,” Dobbyn said. “Mentally, we are going out there feeling like we have to win every game.”
If Michigan can come reasonably close to its goal, this could be a huge season for the Wolverines.