An engine will sputter if the pistons don’t fire with precision — just as an errant pass will stifle the most tantalizing scoring opportunities. Like any classic automobile, a successful soccer team must function as a well-oiled machine.

After a 2004 campaign that saw the Michigan women’s soccer team advance to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament and earn an NCAA tournament berth — its eighth in a row — the 2005 team has already proven that its successful production run did not accumulate rust during the offseason.

Although the squad boasts an impressive array of new features in 2005 — highlighted by a talented and energetic freshman class — reviewers rave about last season’s holdovers.

Michigan’s two most prolific producers on offense last year, senior Therese Heaton and sophomore Melissa Dobbyn, will be in charge of setting the pace for the unit. They had no problem burning goalies in 2004, so it is reasonable to believe that they will surpass last year’s impressive numbers.

“I feel more confidence this year because I don’t have the same uncertainty as a freshman,” Dobbyn said. “Coming in my first year I wasn’t sure what my role was going to be. But this year I already know I am in a position to help the team. And my success in the summer leagues got me more looks against our opponents.”

Not surprisingly, Dobbyn and Heaton have already picked up where they left off in the young season, leading the offense with two goals a piece.

Coming off a rousing victory over Texas last Friday night, an earlier tie with No. 4 Kansas State and a gut twisting 1-1 tie in its match against No. 6 Texas A&M on Sunday, Michigan has reason for excitement.

Coach Debbie Rademacher displayed reserved optimism.

“Even though we tied those two games — which were solid performances — we still could have capitalized on several opportunities in overtime,” Rademacher said.

Rademacher expects continued improvement.

“We have several key players who were injured last season who are back, as well as a solid freshman class that is ready to contribute,” Rademacher said. “We’ll keep working to get the ball in the net.”

The Wolverines have found success despite being wracked by injuries the past few years. Freshman Danielle Underwood’s first career goal on Friday night will only boost the team’s hopes. Adding to the stable of goal scorers provides security against the constant threat of injury.

Although it will take time before the team is running on all cylinders, Michigan has already demonstrated that they can keep pace with the best the NCAA can offer.

Tomorrow, the Wolverines will hit the road to Athens, Ohio for a 7 p.m. matchup against Ohio University. After a day off, they will head west across the state to face off against Miami (Ohio) in Oxford on Sunday at 1 p.m.

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