Last fall, sophomore Sarah Banco didn’t play a single minute of a single game as a midfielder on the Michigan women’s soccer team. During the spring, she tried defense during the non-competitive season.
This fall, the coaches moved her to forward and have committed to keeping her there. And Banco just might have found a new home.
Banco scored the first goal of her career on her first career shot last Friday night against Ohio State. She also has played extensively in each of the nine soccer games the No. 22 Wolverines (1-0-0 Big Ten, 5-2-2 overall) have had this year.
“People who are willing to work hard up there and create turnovers and are also able to score goals are hard to find,” assistant coach Dan Dalzochio said. “Sarah is opportunistic, and she can score. Kids that can score goals are special players, so if you can move somebody into a position like that and they can create goals, I think that’s a bonus.”
Banco originally played midfielder on her club soccer team, and, when she first came to Michigan, that’s where coach Debbie Rademacher played her. But the Wolverines play with three midfielders as opposed to four, and Banco couldn’t find a spot to play. The coaches wanted to get her on the field, so they switched her to defense before eventually committing to playing her at forward.
But Banco handled all of the switches with ease.
“She’s a very versatile soccer player,” senior Therese Heaton said. “One day Debbie has her at midfield, one day at defense, and then at forward. But you wouldn’t be able to tell that from watching her play because she adapts really well.”
But the constant changing positions didn’t affect Banco negatively. She attributes part of her easy transition to forward to her time playing defense.
“Even though I was playing defense in the spring, just getting a chance to practice the physical play and the speed of play was really helpful,” Banco said. “The move (to forward) was unexpected, but it wasn’t too difficult. When you play soccer, you know the general game, so there are some things that are different but (the switch) wasn’t too bad.”
Banco’s work ethic is one of the main reasons she could acclimate herself so seamlessly.
“She’s up there in the top five on the team in terms of work ethic,” Dalzochio said. “Whether it’s in practice or in the games, we know she’ll work just as hard as the person next to her, so we are very comfortable with her in the game.”
Banco has been a consistent presence in games. She enters about 20-30 minutes into the match, and the coaches look for her to provide an offensive spark for the team. The Medfield, Mass., native scored her first career point with an assist in a win over Western Michigan on Sept. 16 and regularly forces turnovers that lead to Michigan goals.
Now that she has an increased role on the team, Banco prepares a little differently and more carefully for games.
“I definitely have to be more prepared and better rested coming to games this year,” Banco said. “I try to make sure I get a lot of sleep and stay focused.”
The coaches have seen the improvement, and Banco is usually the first reserve off the bench. They like the spark Banco provides as a reserve, but she might get a start later in the season.
“Eventually I do want to start, but right now I’m very comfortable with my role,” Banco said. “People on the field don’t really expect me to come in and do much, so it’s kind of nice to be able to hide out there.”
Banco better enjoy her anonymity on the field while she can because pretty soon teams will start taking notice.