Do you think soccer is a “non-contact sport?” Do you
believe that girls aren’t tough athletes?

Senior soccer captain Rachel Rothenbach has four words for
you:

“Come to a game.”

You’ll see a lot at your first Michigan women’s
soccer match: three young athletes on the Wolverine sideline,
sporting huge leg casts to allow their torn ACLs to heal; a pile of
girls running into each other, hoping to redirect a corner kick in
their favor; slide-tackles that miss the ball but get a big chunk
of human flesh; bumping, pushing, shoving and even the occasional
ponytail pull.

“Everyone’s hitting each other —
everyone’s going up for heads, falling on the ground,”
Rothenbach said. “You have to be aggressive in order to stay
in the game.”

What you won’t find is a Wolverine shying away from her
opponent.

“If, during the game, there’s not a lot of contact,
I would like to make it (more physical),” sophomore
midfielder Katelin Spencer said.

Spencer is no stranger to the more painful aspects of soccer. In
a tight match against Ohio, she flung herself into a scrum in front
of the net, hoping to convert a Michigan corner kick. Her header
attempt came up empty — sort of. Although she missed the
ball, she caught a good chunk of her opponent’s head. The
resulting gash would require plastic surgery, holding her out of
four games and forcing her to wear a headband upon her return. But
Spencer’s “gross” injury won’t change her
attitude on the field.

“You have to be willing to get in there and grind it
out,” Spencer said. “If you get hurt once in a while
— it’s going to happen, it will — that
can’t affect you. You’ve got to go in 100-percent all
the time.”

Despite Spencer’s injury, Rothenbach — a defender
— believes that playing aggressively is the best way to
prevent injury.

“If you don’t go in strong, you’re probably
going to get hurt,” Rothenbach said.

Spencer and Rothenbach’s physical style is not the
exception — it’s the rule. Michigan coach Debbie
Rademacher has imbued her team with the intensity and drive to
challenge every play, even if it means going into harm’s way.
She’s been involved with collegiate soccer long enough to
know that toughness shows up on the scoreboard.

“Division I soccer is very physical,” Rademacher
said. “If you can’t play the physical game, you
can’t be successful, no matter how good a soccer player you
are. We may not always be the biggest team, but we always train,
lift, work to get stronger all the time, because that’s
definitely the way women’s soccer is played.”

But when it comes down to it, the team believes that playing
tough is just more fun. After all, where else is pushing someone
considered a healthy activity?

For these girls, there are few things more fulfilling than being
rewarded for your grit.

“I like contact because it pumps me up personally,”
Rothenbach said. “When you hit hard it feels good and you win
the ball. The rest of the team sees how hard you’re playing
and then they want to play that hard.”

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