The Wolverine

November 2011

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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I By Andy Reid t���s no secret sports fans are an excitable bunch, drawn to big offensive numbers and highlight-worthy plays. So naturally, when forward Nkem Ezurike stormed into Ann Arbor in 2010 to lead the Wolverines in goals (nine) and points (19) as a freshman, she captured the spectators��� imaginations and the headlines. Ezurike was undoubtedly ��� and deservedly ��� the star player, but the real catalyst to Michigan���s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006 was the stellar play on the other side of the field. On defense, the 2010 Wolverines was informed of the switch last spring. ���My goals kind of changed a lot throughout the season,��� McCombs said. ���I want to help the team, help the back line and prevent as many goals as possible. And the back line has done such a great job.��� The defense ��� consisting of McCombs, senior Kristen Gonclaves, and sophomores Kayla Mannino and Shelina Zadorsky ���produced almost identical numbers to last year���s. Michigan allowed just five more goals and tallied as many shutouts (six) this season. ���The defense has done a really good job of not letting teams get behind us or letting up breakaway situations,��� that, with the patience and footwork you need on defense. Once I got that, it made everything so much easier.��� Sitting with a 6-3-2 record, Michigan traveled to play Iowa (Sept.�� 20) and Nebraska (Oct. 2) in one weekend, taking on two of the top scoring offenses in the Big Ten. Through the regular season, Cornhusker forward Morgan Marlborough ranked second in the conference with 2.56 points per game. She was doubleteamed against Michigan and managed only one shot on goal. The Wolverines took both games that weekend, allowing just 18 shots to slip through to Kopmeyer, who saved all but one. All-Out Battles A Young Defense Kept Michigan In Most Games In A Rebuilding Season never surrendered more than two goals in a game, consistently giving Ezurike, and an offense that struggled to find production from other players, a chance. The 2011 season is now over, after the Wolverines lost five of their last six games to miss the Big Ten Tournament. But not much changed on offense. Ezurike compiled more goals (11) and points (28) than she did last season, clearly cementing her as the focal point of the attack. redshirt junior goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer said. ���They���ve done a good job of limiting teams��� shots to outside the box.��� Unfortunately, the defensive performance wasn���t quite enough. U-M finished 4-6-1 in the conference and 9-8-2 overall, and won���t build on its NCAA Tournament run from 2010. There were some early struggles, with the Wolverines letting up three scores in losses to Pepperdine and Minnesota as the group jelled. ��� Redshirt junior goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer ���The defense has done a really good job of not letting teams get behind us or letting up breakaway situations. They���ve done a good job of limiting teams��� shots to outside the box.��� On defense, though, the Wolverines entered the year with a massive question mark. Between graduates Jackie Carron, Amanda Bowery, Kylie Neschke and Sarah Stanczyk (who played both defense and midfield), the defensive unit lost a combined 232 career starts. To help fill the void left by the mass exodus of the back line, Michigan coach Greg Ryan promoted halfpint sophomore forward/midfielder Tori McCombs to defense. McCombs, who stands just 5-4, started every game in 2010, contributing 17 points, 106��� the wolverine��� ������ November 2011 McCombs admits that the transition to defense was, at times, difficult. ���It���s hard in certain aspects, because I have to learn how to mentally adapt to it,��� she said. ���Defensive and offensive roles are so different, mentally. On defense, you always have to be on, you always have to be ready for the next attack, and that���s all mental. ���My speed is very good, but sometimes I have issues when it comes to slowing down and not diving in. I have to learn patience, and Coach Ryan and [associate head coach] Dean Duerst helped me out so much with ���It took a while to build my confidence, but that weekend was the big turning point,��� McCombs said. ���As a defense, we stopped some of the best attackers in the country, and I think it helped the whole back line. We���re a young team, and that showed people we���re good back there and that age doesn���t matter.��� While the season progressed, McCombs started to relish being a defender. ���I���m learning that offense and defense each have their own rewards,��� she said. ���Stopping an attacking person���s score or heading a potential threat is just as rewarding as scoring a goal.��� The defense���s maturation under fire has been helped immensely by Kopmeyer, who led the Big Ten in saves (115) and saves per game (6.05) through Oct. 31. ���Haley has been incredible,��� McCombs said. ���It���s very hard on her, because she���s the only goalie right now, but she���s stepped up to the challenge immensely. She���s done more than we could���ve ever asked.��� Kopmeyer is accustomed to the parity and down-to-the-wire games that Redshirt junior goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer led the Big Ten in saves (115) and saves per game (6.05) in the regular season. Photo courtesy U-M Sports Information

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