The Wolverine

November 2012

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 109 of 123

F CLIMBING TOWARD THE TOP the league's recent history. Penn State has won or shared the conference title for the last 15 years, stretching back to the 1998 season. During that incredible stretch, the Nittany Lions have compiled a 133- 12-6 record against Big Ten foes. They are the cream of the crop, the measuring stick for any conference program that wants to be considered among the nationally elite teams. or the last 15 years, Big Ten women's soccer has lived un- der the shadow of one of the most dominant dynasties in BY ANDY REID "Basically we just weeded out the players who were going to be com- mitted and be good teammates and we went with them. The other ones left the program. By starting over with good people who were will- ing to put in the work, that was our foundation." Greg Ryan's Rebuilding Project Reaches New Heights Women's Soccer Coach Ryan first took over before the 2008 season, competing on Penn State's level was perhaps the furthest thing from his mind. The Wolverines were coming off a When Michigan head coach Greg proved slightly, winning six games and falling to Penn State by just a 2-0 count. three-win season in 2007. They called a ramshackle field, thrown together on an empty plot neighboring the football facilities, home. And they were struggling to entice top talent to commit to the program. In Ryan's first season, Michigan struggled to a 4-10-5 record and was run off the field by the Nittany Lions, 4-0. Ryan remembers that game well. "All we did was defend for 90 min- utes, and they'd still beat us 4-0," he said. "I don't even think we ever crossed midfield." Ryan and his staff needed to do more than improve the talent level and on-field productivity of their players — the entire culture of the program needed to be reworked and refined. "We had so much we needed to change," Ryan said. "The level of commitment from the players was exceptionally low. And we raised the 110 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2012 The next year, the Wolverines im- Things started to change, slowly and surely. The athletic department built a brand-new stadium for the men's and women's soccer teams; Ryan started attracting more top- flight recruits to Ann Arbor. In 2010, Michigan made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2006 season, compiling a 10-5-4 record and finishing in fifth place in the conference. And this year, the Wolverines put together their best season in a de- cade, tallying a 13-4-1 record (the most wins since 2002), including seven wins in the Big Ten (most since 2004) and a No. 3 finish in the final Big Ten standings (their best since 2004). rewarding, because five years ago I took over a team that had only won three games the year before. And we really lacked the talent that it takes to be even a decent team in the Big Ten. For me, it's very rewarding, and for the seniors that came in my first year "It's fantastic," Ryan said. "It's so standards so high, in terms of the commitment level, the training ses- sions, the amount of strength and conditioning. They had never done anything like that before. We worked on their behavior, too, how they acted as teammates. It was a huge change for them. — Haley Kopmeyer and Clare Stachel — it's very rewarding for them, be- cause they have put so much into it. "They've been our leaders. Clare has been a captain for three years now. It's great. You look at this sta- dium — this was a swamp and now it's one of the best stadiums for soc- cer in the country. If we were still playing where we were before, I'm not sure that we could still get those kind of players. I have to thank the administration for that. happy about where this program is headed." Perhaps the most encouraging re- sult of the year, however, was the one against Penn State. In State Col- lege, Oct. 21, the Wolverines held a one-goal lead over the Nittany Lions, until the 85th minute, when a penalty kick knotted the score, 1-1. After two scoreless overtime periods, the game ended in a 1-1 tie. I'm very Just one other team held Penn State to fewer than two goals throughout the entire regular season (BYU beat Penn State 3-1 Sept. 8). And the Nit- tany Lions outscored Big Ten oppo- nents 36-10 in 11 conference games. Although Penn State still won the Big Ten regular-season title, the tie to Michigan spoiled an otherwise per- fect conference record (10-0-1). "We were a little bummed," said Kopmeyer, the Wolverines' fifth-year senior goalie. "We came so close to beating them, and we all thought we were going to do it. To get a tie when you're so close doesn't sit well." Ryan is more optimistic about the result. "As a coach who has been around for a long time, I think that getting a draw with Penn State is absolutely fantastic," he said. "And it's some- thing I'm not sure I thought would ever happen. This is a huge step for us." The rise back to the upper echelon of the conference was built on solid defense. The Wolverines, led by Kopmeyer in net, were No. 2 in the conference in goals allowed, surrendering just 13 all season. Kopmeyer and the de- fense had just three games in which the opponent scored multiple goals, and U-M notched a league-leading 11 shutouts, including a midseason string of six consecutive blankings from Sept. 7-28. Unlike previous years — when

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