Eleven. Say that number to anyone on the Michigan men’s soccer
team and he’s likely to look back at you with pride.

On Monday night, the team received some long-desired news – its
name appeared in the No. 11 spot in the NCSAA Coaches’ Poll. This
marks the first time the team has ever been nationally ranked in
its four year history.

“I would consider our team one of the hardest working teams I’ve
ever been on – it makes me proud that we’re finally being
recognized,” senior captain Mike White said.

Getting the recognition was not such a surprise as the team (3-1
Big Ten, 11-4 overall) has won seven out of its last eight games,
including a win over then-No. 17 Oakland and tough rival Michigan
State.

In the team’s last two seasons, its performance was just shy of
earning one of the coveted 48 bids (out of 203 teams in the nation)
to the NCAA tournament. Now that the team has been ranked – and so
highly ranked – receiving this honor could make the difference if
the team is on the bubble again this year when the committee makes
its decision. The ranking does not guarantee a bid by any means,
but it doesn’t hurt either, especially if the Wolverines remain
ranked in following weeks.

Earning a bid is actually based on the RPI – Ratings Percentage
Index – which takes three things into account for every team:
Overall win-loss record (25 percent), opponents’ overall win-loss
record (50 percent), and opponents’ opponents overall win-loss
record (25 percent).

Right now, Michigan has 11 wins, paired with only four losses.
Last year the Big Ten was the second-toughest region in terms of
opponent skill level. These factors heighten the chances for
Michigan to finally earn a spot in this year’s tournament. And if
the team wins its last three games of the season, it could even
thrust them into the nation’s top 10.

What’s more important than the benefits for this year’s team are
the long-term benefits for the future of the soccer program.

When Michigan made the jump from club to varsity four years ago,
Michigan coach Steve Burns focused more on the great academics and
atmosphere of the university to attract players. The team’s record
has improved each successive season, but now the team has
officially established itself as a dominant force in the
nation.

Consequently, the team can now boast top-quality performance, as
well as academics and atmosphere as a reason to choose Michigan.
Especially students who are juniors in high school will begin to
look at Michigan as a top choice for soccer.

“Now we’re able to attract really the top eschilon of students
and players,” Burns said. It’s all cyclical – they go hand in hand
with each other. It’s the horse that kind of drives the cart.”

Although team members are excited to have finally received their
due credit, some admitted that the ranking could work against
them.

“It’s good to get the recognition, but I don’t want us to get
too comfortable,” junior Dawson Stellberger said. “It’s almost a
false sense of confidence. We just can’t let down – we have to keep
working hard.”

Junior Jeff Mirmelstein also worries about how other teams will
perceive them.

“It’s giving us more to live up to,” Mirmelstein said. “Teams
are going to start recognizing that we’re a team to beat – which is
different than we’re used to. We’re used to being the
underdogs.”

The team will get a chance to test its new “top-dog” status this
weekend when they take on two tough rivals on the road: Akron
tomorrow and Penn State on Sunday.

 

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