In the world outside college football, where championships are decided in a playoff, only one team can walk away completely satisfied — the champion. For outgoing senior captains Laura Tanchon and Rachel Rothenbach, Michigan’s one-goal loss last Friday to Detroit in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament was a bitter end to an up-and-down season. But, it wasn’t enough to sour how they view their careers as collegiate soccer players.

“Obviously I’m disappointed in the way it turned out,” Tanchon said. “But we saw a lot of successes and still have a lot of positive things that next year’s team can grow off of from this season.”

“One of my goals coming into Michigan was to leave the program better than I came in,” Rothenbach said. “I think that definitely happened. We hadn’t made it past the second round (of the NCAA tournament by) my freshman year. Then we made it to the elite eight and sweet sixteen. So, I think it’s all about the ride of going through the four years. It’s not the best way to end it, but I still have a good taste in my mouth.”

After their sweet-sixteen appearance last year, the Wolverines entered 2004 with high hopes, but got off to a slow start. Michigan opened the regular season with two losses at No. 5 Texas A&M and at No. 13 Texas.

The Wolverines returned home for a 2-1 overtime win against Kentucky which began an eight-game unbeaten streak in the month of September that vaulted Michigan to No. 16 in the national rankings.

During the 7-0-1 streak, freshman Melissa Dobbyn and junior Therese Heaton emerged as the heart of Michigan’s offense, scoring 11 of the Wolverines’ 17 goals. On the defensive side, sophomore goalkeeper Megan Tuura picked up where she left off in the 2003 NCAA Tournament, posting four shutouts and allowing just five goals in those eight games.

Last year, the Wolverines relied heavily on their stingy defense, which stymied opponents long enough for the offense to score timely goals.

Michigan continued to play solid defense to start this season, but this year it jumped all over its opponents on the offensive end. Through 10 games, the 2004 squad outscored opponents 20-11, compared to last year’s team, which was outscored opponents 11-10 in the same span.

The combination of solid defense and aggressive play from their forwards had Michigan sitting on top of the Big Ten at midseason.

Michigan’s season took a turn for the worse when No. 5 Penn State and No. 21 Ohio State came to Ann Arbor for a pair of games in October.

The Wolverines struggled to scores goals against both teams, despite numerous scoring chances. Michigan lost a double-overtime, 1-0 heartbreaker to the Nittany Lions and tied the Buckeyes 1-1 after the Wolverines failed to score in two overtime periods for the second straight game.

“We peaked probably too early,” Rothenbach said. “We peaked in the middle of the season when we were on an eight-game unbeaten streak. It’s unfortunate, but we still had a lot of fun. There was a lot of team chemistry and it was definitely still a successful season at times.”

For the rest of October, the Wolverines found themselves in one of two positions — either failing to cash in on scoring chances in close games or getting behind in the first half and falling short in their second-half comebacks. After their scorching performance in September, the Wolverines went 2-5-1 in October to finish the regular season at 10-7-2.

The late-season slide left the Wolverines in third place in the Big Ten with a 6-3-1 record, and they headed into the Big Ten Tournament unsure of their chances to qualify for NCAA postseason play.

Michigan avenged an earlier loss to Wisconsin with an opening-round, 1-0 victory over the Badgers in Columbus. In the second round, the Wolverines fell behind Ohio State 3-0 after just 20 minutes, and goals by Tanchon and freshman Melissa Dobbyn were not enough to overcome the deficit — Michigan fell 5-2. Despite the loss, Michigan still earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

In a twist of fate, Michigan returned to Columbus one week later for the first-round game and suffered a similar defeat — this time at the hands of Detroit. The Wolverines were down 3-0 by halftime and their two second-half goals were not enough to prolong their season, as they lost 3-2 last Friday.

“Obviously, it was a disappointing ending,” Tanchon said. “We started off the season a little (slowly), then we gained momentum in the middle of the season. We were really optimistic going into the (NCAA) Tournament because we had a great draw.”

With no professional women’s soccer league, both Tanchon and Rothenbach will now turn toward a new chapter in their lives.

“I think when the days pass by and at three o’ clock I’m sitting in my house somewhere, that’s when it’s going to hit me more (that my soccer career is over),” Tanchon said. “It will be interesting to see what life is like without soccer because it has been such a huge part of my life since I was about six or so. It hasn’t totally sunk in yet, but I imagine in the next couple of weeks it will.”

After graduation in May, Tanchon will look to turn her biopsychology degree into a career in the pharmaceutical industry. Rothenbach will continue coaching youth soccer for Ann Arbor United before traveling around the world next fall. Both regard their time at Michigan and with the soccer team as a vital experience.

“I’ve definitely grown a lot since freshman year,” Tanchon said. “I’m definitely more of a leader now. I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I think the team has evolved, too, from four years ago. The four years I’ve been here, it has grown tremendously, so I can’t imagine what it was like 11 years ago (when the program started). It was exciting to be a part of it for four years and I’m interested to watch how the program continues to do.”

It will be up to Michigan coach Debbie Rademacher to make sure next year’s team learns the lesson of this season.

“I want them to realize how quickly things can turn in the world of women’s soccer in college,” Rademacher said. “It just shows us that we have to be at the top of our game every time we come out to play — because someone is always out there and is able to knock you off. We can’t afford to rest or take a sigh of relief or feel good about our last performance.”

But Rademacher will have to do it without Tanchon and Rothenbach.

“Every year we lose key and important people,” Rademacher said. “Then your team finds a new identity. I look at the group we have and it’s exciting because we have some of our big, core players coming back. They are still going to be core players, but they will have another year under their belt.”

Michigan will look to Dobbyn, Tuura and Heaton to be that core. But also look for freshman Jamie Artsis, sophomore Brenna Mulholland and junior captain Stephanie Boyles to play major roles.

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