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The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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32 THE WOLVERINE MAY 2020 BY JOHN BORTON J ennifer Klein's women's soc- cer crew accomplished plenty in only her second season at the helm for the Wolverines. They're just getting started, she in- sists. U-M clawed its way up to No. 15 in the final rankings, made the NCAA Sweet 16 and missed capturing a Big Ten title by an overtime goal against a team the Wolverines had beaten on the road earlier. The squad still ac- complished enough to snag The Wol- verine magazine's designation as the Michigan Female Team of the Year. Next season, they could be even better. A junior-loaded aggregation will absolutely draw from a couple of the near-misses along the way this past season, Klein assured. "Any time you have such an im- pactful group returning as seniors with experience, it's exciting," she said. Klein witnessed considerable growth in her program in two short years. She attributes it largely to an acceptance of a new staff's approach to the game. "It's a combination of improving in our style of play and making adjust- ments to what we learned, year one, with our new staff," Klein assessed. "I also think it was the implementa- tion and taking advantage of the new culture we were trying to create. The work they did in the offseason really put them in position to be successful." The Wolverines got out of the gate at 3-0 and then lost a pair of extremely tough games, 1-0 in dou- ble overtime at Marquette and 1-0 to Notre Dame in Ann Arbor. A week later, they had to travel to face No. 13 Washington State, before opening the conference season at powerhouse Penn State. Klein identified that stretch as Michigan's launching pad. The Wol- verines knocked off WSU 2-1 and then hung a 1-0 loss on the No. 23 Nittany Lions in State College. "Washington State was a ranked opponent at the time, higher than us in the RPI," Klein recalled. "Pullman is not an easy place to go play and perform. To score on them very early, two goals, really helped. "Then to return to open up Big Ten play and beat Penn State at Penn State, that made for two weekends, back to back, which became a turning point in our season." The Nittany Lions drew revenge at the worst possible time. With the Wolverines teetering a bounce of the ball away from a Big Ten title in over- time of the conference championship game, Penn State made the winning play in a 2-1 crusher. "It was obviously very disappoint- ing," Klein said. "Going into the game, we felt confident. We felt we for sure had a chance, especially with the performance we had in opening the Big Ten. It was unfortunate. "That's our sport. In the blink of an eye, it's done, especially when it's over- time. It was tough for the group. That was one of their goals. They wanted to win a Big Ten championship." That's where the motivation from the future comes from, and it's con- siderable. "That moment will drive us," Klein insisted. "It has driven us in our offseason, and it will drive them through the summer and definitely through the fall. They're even more motivated now to really do it." They're fully equipped to make good on such talk. Klein's crew fea- tured only three seniors — defender Sura Yekka, midfielder Brooke Cil- ley and defender Jada Dayne, who didn't see the field because of injury. All three found a way to make an impact, the coach mentioned. "Brooke Cilley really stands out," Klein said. "How she approached her offseason and the commitment she made to her overall fitness really set the tone for her and what she was able to achieve. "It also set a culture and an expec- tation for the younger players. Her commitment to that offseason time impacted our group in such a great way." The juniors, including goalie Hill- ary Beall, midfielders Sarah Stratiga- kis, Nicki Hernandez, Faith Harper FEMALE TEAM OF THE YEAR WOMEN'S SOCCER ON THE RISE The Best Is Yet To Come For Women's Soccer Head coach Jennifer Klein on U-M losing to Penn State in overtime of the Big Ten championship game "That moment will drive us. It has driven us in our offseason, and it will drive them through the summer and definitely through the fall. They're even more motivated now to really do it."

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