As captains of the women’s varsity soccer team, Kristin Thomas and I began this season with nothing but optimism. We had a new coaching staff, promises of a brand new facility and the chance to turn Michigan’s women’s soccer program around. We have a young team — of our 24 players, we have 13 underclassmen. We have talent, and now have the coaches.
But what we lacked, as a group, was an understanding of Michigan tradition — what it means to be a Wolverine. As captains, Kristin and I decided to teach our young players what Michigan is all about before the season started. We read the legendary football coach Bo Schembechler’s book, “Bo’s Lasting Lessons,” and picked 13 of his greatest lessons to share with the team, one for every day of our grueling preseason. We established team rules based on representing Michigan and its traditions. We stressed that playing for Michigan was the greatest privilege an athlete could earn. We were playing harder than ever before, under one of the best coaches in the nation. We spent two weeks in Georgia before the season, running twice-a-day practices and yelling the greatest fight song ever written.
And then we got back to Ann Arbor. We were slated to play Notre Dame at home, under the lights, on our new field. This was supposed to be the beginning of a new chapter for our program. Except our field wasn’t ready. So, instead of a home opener against one of the top five teams in the nation, we went on the road and played Notre Dame on their field, in their stadium, under their lights. When we got back from this game and our field still wasn’t ready, we went back on the road. We spent the first 23 of the 25 days of our preseason on the road.
That was August. It is now September and our fields are still dirt (literally). The Athletic Department has a long list of reasons why our fields aren’t finished: permits, frogs, wetlands. It has apologized. But the bottom line is that we don’t have anywhere to play.
The Athletic Department’s solution to this problem is for us to practice at Mitchell Field and compete at Eastern Michigan University. After two days of practicing at Mitchell Field, we had seven ankle injuries. Mitchell is not fit for varsity training, and anyone who has competed at a high level would agree. Our “home” games aren’t on our field or under our lights (or any lights, for that matter). Every “home” game, we have to look into the stands and see our parents sitting in green bleachers, surrounded by Eastern Michigan eagles.
We still do not have a field, and in its recent article about the construction delays, the Daily essentially said this wasn’t a big deal (After delays, soccer facility nears opening, 09/11/08). Had the Daily asked a member of the women’s soccer program, it would have had a better idea of what this means to play Michigan soccer. Maybe the male soccer players find these delays acceptable, but I refuse to accept what the Athletic Department has done to my team.
The Athletic Department and the Daily have portrayed this catastrophe as nothing more than a slight inconvenience, a slight delay, a slight miscalculation. But there is nothing slight about having to explain to my freshmen why they should fight for Michigan when Michigan has not fought for us. I’ve stopped trying to give them an explanation.
This year, we are fighting for each other, our coaches, our parents, Bo and Michigan tradition. I won’t make excuses for today’s Michigan.
Katie Miler is an LSA senior and co-captain of the women’s varsity soccer team.