Note: A big thanks to Paul for getting an interview with Coach Ryan and Captain Kylie Neschke to supplement this preview. While he isn't posting much yet, his work behind the scenes is invaluable.
While soccer is no new subject on mgoblog, women's soccer and more importantly, Michigan soccer are new to this realm. As the official first sporting match of the season (men's soccer plays an exhibition first), the women's team will be spotlighted in our first season preview of the year. I'll be trying to preview each non-revenue team over the next 4-5 weeks, following those up with roundup posts during the actual year.
Our women's soccer team has actually been rather successful in the 15 seasons of its existence. Their overall record is 164-118-42, with 2 Big Ten Tournament Championships and 9 NCAA appearances. Each of those championships and post season appearances were under coach Debbie Rademacher, who stepped down following the 2007 season to be spend more time with her two young children. During her tenure, Michigan saw talents such as Big Ten POY in 2002 Abby Crumpton who still holds the record for points in a career (116) at Michigan.
The team was most successful from '97-'99 when the team was at the start of its NCAA streak of 8 seasons in a row. The team went 49-17-3 in that three year stretch lead by all time goal leader Kacy Beitel and all time saves leader Carissa Stewart. The team would see the next few years each have double digit win totals and NCAA appearances until 2005 when the team would finish with a sub-.500 record. The 2006 season saw a return to the post season, but it would Michigan's last to date. The 2007 season was a sour one, seeing Michigan go the dreaded 3-9 with 6 ties.
Following that season, Greg Ryan stepped in.
Greg Ryan was a big of a hire as Rich Rodriguez. There, I said it. Ryan not only ranks among the winningest coaches in NCAA women's soccer, but he also had just finished a three year tenure as a coach with the US National team, compiling a 49-1-9 record with a bronze medal in the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup. He was also an assistant on the 2004 Olympic team that won the gold medal.
At the college level, Ryan has lead four different teams to a 189-91-23 combined record. He began his career with Wisconsin, taking them so far as the NCAA championship game. He also led his alma mater SMU (where he was an All-American) and lead a rebuilding job at Colorado College.
His philosophy to bring Michigan back to a winner is skill, smarts, and scoring:
We’ve really made a major shift in philosophy from just athletic, big, players to just recruiting soccer players and they may be big, they are athletic, but our number one goal is that they are very, very skillful,they are very smart and they are just very passionate about playing the game of soccer. So what the outcome in the field will be is that we will be able to possess the ball much better than we ever have, we will be able to attack better than we ever have and most of the players that I’m recruiting now, whether they are backs or whether they are forwards or midfielders, can score goals. That has been a huge problem for this team -- they just don’t score enough goals. They can defend well, but don’t score enough goals. So as I am looking at players, even the defenders, I'm recruiting goal scorers.
Woo! Fewer 0-0 ties! While I've yet to find any recruiting class rankings for this upcoming class, Ryan's 2008 class was ranked #16 by Soccer Buzz magazine. Coach Ryan has already targeted 5-6 commits in the class of 2010, all "high level attacking players."
[The team, the outlook, and the swanky new stadium en route after the jump.]
The 2008 season was a tough transition. Stop me if you've heard this one before, but coaching transitions aren't always smooth. Some players were playing out of their normal positions, a new program was being installed in just a few short months. Recruiting fell behind. In the end, Michigan finished 4-10-5, including losing seven games by only one goal. That's some tough losses right there.
The main objective last year was to focus on smart shooting and good defense. Michigan was very low on shot totals when compared to their opponents (154-286), but Michigan's shooting percentage was nearly 2 points higher than their competition. Unfortunately, with such a lower number of shots, it didn't translate to many wins.
Another objective of last season was to cut down on the fouls. Michigan fouled only 159 times compared to their opponents' 200.
Four captains have been named for this season. Junior defender/midfielder Jackie Carron (names link to captains interviews) is one captain. She was a Freshman All-BigTen and Soccer Buzz Freshman All-American in 2007 and has started every game since arriving on campus. Carron had the third most shots on the team last year but only posted one goal.
The next captain is senior (junior eligibility) Alex Jendrusch. Alex will be a regular starter this year after two years as a reserve. She's an academic leader on the team, earning the U-M Athletic Academic Achievement award each of her three years on campus.
Senior midfielder Amy Klippert is the third captain. Amy has been a starter since stepping on campus. She's only missed three games in her time in Ann Arbor, all in her freshman and sophomore seasons. Last year, she was tied for 2nd on the team with 2 goals (it was a 5 way tie).
The final captain is senior defender Kylie Neschke (pictured on the right, from mgoblue.com). This will be Neschke's third season as a regular starter. She earned a starting role to close out her freshman season in 2006. As a defender, she hasn't accumulated many stats, only 21 shots (only 2 last year).
Kylie was nice enough to do an interview with Paul this week, here are some of the highlights:
What was the most challenging part of last season?
The biggest challenge was not having a field. We spent part of last season playing in the baseball outfield. When we travel to other places, we got to see what they put into their facilities, which was tough.
What do you like about Coach Ryan?
He has a plan for each person. He has a plan for each stage. Last year was building the foundation and developing chemistry. This year, it's more wins, improving our rankings. Going into the future I believe Michigan can be an elite program.
How did you feel when you first found out that your new coach was the national team coach?
Excited, because at that level you have to be a good coach. We could tell that Michigan was putting a lot of effort into the soccer program and is really willing to do what it takes to make it successful.
Kylie wants to let you know the Yankel Award, which goes to the worst individual photo on the team, should be announced in the next few days and to stay tuned. For those of you wondering what the Yankel Award is really about, defender Clare Stachel released this bit of investigative reporting for mgoblue.com, detailing the picture day for the women's soccer team. It's pretty awesome. Give it a watch.
I've yet to find anything that points to who will start in goal this fall, but my guess is Haley Kopmeyer. Haley started the first game of last season, but suffered a season ending injury during the first half of the bad Michigan loss. She received a medical redshirt for the year and looks to be healthy for this season. The rest of the season, then-senior Madison Gates took over the majority of the goalkeeping duties. Kristen Keane also made 5 appearances and one start, but only played 213 minutes (compared to Gates's 1557).
Haley Kopmeyer, Photo by Ed Osinski
Kopmeyer was all-state out of high school (Lahser HS of Bloomfield Hills, MI) and played with the USA 18-U team in 2008. Keane also has a nice prep record coming out of Illinois, including several ridiculous records such as 40 shut outs and a .38 goals against average. They are your presumed leaders, and I'd give Kopmeyer a slight edge. Both will probably see time regardless.
Two freshman goalie were recruited this year, but I don't expect either to take over the starting job. Neither has a resume quite as good as Keane or Kopmeyer.
If there is one player that carried the team in the measurable statistics last season, it was Amanda Bowery. Bowery is a junior who is a true center-back (more of a defender), but has been playing forward. To quote Coach Ryan:
We have a true center forward, whereas we’ve been playing (Amanda) Bowery there. She is really a true center back playing at forward and she hardly ever played forward (before), so now we have people that actually understand their roles, positions and have the skill set to execute those roles
As he says, she should be more comfortable this year and we will have a true center forward, which should improve our scoring capabilities. Last year, Bowery lead the team with 7 goals (the next closest was the previously mentioned 5-way tie with 2). Her 30 shots (17 on goal) also lead the team, with only now graduated Natalie Horner coming within 10 shots of Bowery's total (she had 27, 14 on goal).
To replace Bowery at center forward will be freshman Holly Hines. Hines was recruited by Ryan for her great skill set for the forward position. According to Ryan, Hines can score goals on the run, play well in the air, pass the ball well, and score from distance.
Supporting Bowery and Hines will be sophomores Clare Stachel, Kelsey Rogind, and Natalie Horner. Each netted a pair of goals last season, and Stachel also picked up a team high 5 assists. Freshman Eunnie Kim will also see significant playing time at forward. She was the second of the two scorers recruited by Ryan this last off season.
This season is expected to be one more in the rebuilding variety. Michigan faces a pretty tough schedule with 5 ranked opponents (and one in the others receiving votes category). They also play 3 other teams that at least received votes in last years season-ending poll. Ryan believes you can't just schedule cupcakes, and he wants to boost the number of ranked opponents to about 10 per season after 2010. By then, he thinks the transition to a more modern program should be completed.
Michigan has a decent shot during their conference slate. The Big Ten ranks well behind the major powers such as the ACC and Pac10, and probably behind other strong conferences like the Big 12 and WCC. The conference as a whole is making a transition very similar to Michigan's, moving from a culture of big, defensive players to smart, quick players.
The transition to a Coach Ryan program isn't going to happen overnight. He has a solid staff of former professional players, each with positional strengths, trying to bring in an attacking philosophy, but it has to be phased in as he brings in more new players. As for this year, it looks like another tough year of growing pains.
The Big Ten Coaches Preseason Poll agrees. They have Michigan slated to finish 11th. Ouch.
Come See Them Play
While the new, shiny stadium, a $6 million masterpiece unrivaled in the Big10, much less this region, won't be completed until 2010, the program is already starting to build up atmosphere at the games. Coach Ryan described the transition as going from a funeral to a fun, noise-making affair. One of the parents, a native Brazilian, is planning on bringing the stands to life. And if anyone would know about making soccer fun, it would be Brazilians.
So those of you who have some interest, get out to a game. Their calendar can be found in html here. For downloadable, you can get an ical here.