Its 2002 season might be over, but the Michigan men’s soccer team made an impact in the Big Ten this year. It just didn’t reach its loftiest goal: making the NCAA Tournament.
To illustrate how far this team has come in just three years, it’s worth taking a brief look back through its inaugural season. In 2000, with just one year of scholarship players (all freshman), Michigan (1-5 Big Ten, 6-10-0 overall) finished sixth in the conference and, as a sixth seed, exited the Big Ten Tournament in the first round. It scored merely 20 goals, while allowing a staggering 37.
In 2001, with another class of scholarship players on board, the Wolverines (3-3 Big Ten, 10-7-1 overall) finished tied for third in the Big Ten and then reached the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament, despite being seeded fifth. The offense collected 23 goals on the season, while its stingy defense allowed a comparatively reasonable 26.
This year, two contrasting halves defined Michigan’s 11-7-2 season. In its first 10 matches, the Wolverines compiled a 4-5-1 record and was unable to close the deal in close matches. In its second half, it amassed a stalwart 7-2-1 record, including a trip to the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament, where its season ended in a 2-1 loss to Penn State. The offense played very well, striking a ridiculous 45 goals, while the defense played cohesively, allowing just 27.
The progression and development of such a young team has been phenomenal. In its first two season’s, reaching the NCAA Tournament wasn’t a foreseeable season objective. Michigan lacked enough scholarship players to be competitive at the national level and, in the league, was just starting to make a name for itself.
But this past season, Michigan built off its 2001 successes – evident by scoring 22 more goals. But losing to Penn State not only cost the Wolverines the Big Ten Tournament title, but also an automatic bid to the NCAAs.
“The preparation begins (now) so next season we’re not feeling this way,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said to his players, in response to the team not even receiving an at-large bid.
Just two teams from the Big Ten were selected to the tournament, Penn State and Indiana, both of whom beat Michigan during the regular season in one-goal games.
Overall, Michigan had a lot to be pleased with this season, despite its absence from the tournament. Next fall, with another class of scholarship players being added to the roster and the loss of just one starter to graduation (tri-captain defender Robert Turpin), Michigan should be able to continue its improving trend.