It’s finally here. Football season is just around the corner.
For those of us who just can’t wait to get our Wolverine fix, the start of football season is preceded by games, meets, and matches in many of Michigan’s non-revenue sports. The Michigan athletic season always opens with Women’s Soccer, quickly followed by Men’s Soccer, Field Hockey, Cross Country, and Volleyball. If you’re in Ann Arbor, this is a great way to get on campus early and support some of our excellent other programs.
If you’re trying to watch at home, be aware that BTN Plus is now a standalone app called BTN+, and no longer lives in the same place as other BTN streaming (which is now in the Fox Sports app). BTN+ will have a lot of non-rev content over the course of the season, but starts slow with a few soccer games. It doesn’t look like there is anything in this window that is on regular TV.
We’ll briefly recap each team’s 2018, and take you through Labor Day:
Matches: Fri Aug 16, 7p v. Iowa (Exhibition), Thu Aug 22, 7:30p v. Marshall, Sun Aug 25, 2p v. Utah State, Fri Aug 30, 5p v. FGCU, Sun Sept 1, 3:30p @ Marquette
The Wolverine Women’s Soccer team had a middling season in 2018, going 9-9-1. They were right in the middle of the Big Ten, finishing 8th (all 14 teams participate). This was good for the last spot in the Big Ten Tournament, where they suffered a first round loss at the hands of 1-seed Penn St. 2018’s top scorers Nicki Hernandez (8 G, 6 A) and Sarah Stratigakis (7 G, 3 A) both return and were named to the Big Ten Preseason honors list, where they were joined by keeper Hillary Beall. Michigan was predicted to finish fifth, taking a step forward in coach Jennifer Klein’s second year.
After losing a friendly against conference-mate Iowa last Friday, Women’s Soccer opens the 2019-20 Wolverine Athletic season, taking on Marshall. Marshall struggled last season and should be a team Michigan can pick off to gain some confidence in their opener. Same goes for Sunday v. Utah State. Their first real challenge will come when they face Florida Gulf Coast in the home leg of a two-year home and home. Last year, FGCU downed the Wolverines 3-2 in Ft. Meyers, and Michigan will be looking to return the favor in Ann Arbor. It is $1 ticket night, and is the opener of a double-header with the men’s side. $1 for two Michigan games sounds like the perfect way to get hype for the next night’s game of the other type of football.
Michigan will hit the road for the first time that Sunday, traveling to Milwaukee to take on Marquette. The Golden Eagles will be coming off a trip to in-state rivals Madison, which should give us an idea of how they stack up against Big Ten competition. Last year in Ann Arbor the Wolverines downed Marquette 3-2, overcoming a 2-1 deficit. Marquette would go on to struggle, and should provide Michigan an early opportunity to pick up a road victory.
Matches: Sat Aug 17, 2p @ Cincinnati (exhibition), Fri Aug 23, 3:30p @ Akron (exhibition), Fri Aug 30, 7:30p v. FGCU, Mon Sept 2, 1p v. SIUE
Michigan Men’s Soccer had an overall successful season last year, and will be looking to return to the NCAA Tournament after last year’s second round exit. Michigan came in third in the Big Ten before making a run to the Big Ten Tournament finals, where they lost to Indiana. In the first round of the NCAA Tourney, Michigan took down Princeton at a cold and snowy U-M Soccer Stadium, in a 1-1 match that featured 14 dramatic rounds of PKs (11-10 M), and easily the whiniest away parents section I’ve ever interacted with. Unfortunately, Penalty Kicks were their undoing in the next round, after holding Notre Dame to a scoreless draw in South Bend and losing another very long shootout 11-10.
Like the women, the men’s side returns the bulk of their scoring, with 2018 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Jack Hallahan (8 G, 8 A) returning to defend his title. Hallahan also appears on the MAC Hermann Trophy (soccer Heisman) Watch List. They also return Umar Farouk Osman, whose 9 goals combined with Hallahan accounted for half of Michigan’s scoring. Big losses include Robbie Mertz in Midfield (who has 6 goals this season with the USL Championship’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds) and Marcello Borges in back (who appears to be on Detroit City FC’s fall roster). Men’s soccer will open the season at #24 in the United Soccer Coaches poll, good for third in the Big Ten behind #2 Indiana and #7 Michigan State.
Michigan opens with two ambitious exhibitions in Ohio. Michigan beat Cincinatti 2-1 last Saturday, and continue with a tough match with National Runner-Up Akron (yeah, Akron is a soccer power. 3 out of the last 4 College Cups (Final Fours), beat MSU in the semis last year, 15 straight tourney appearances). They will return home to open the season, in the second half of the $1 Night double header with FGCU. FGCU is a strong opener, who were #2 in the Atlantic Sun last year. The Wolverines will be happy to provide your Labor Day entertainment with a Monday Matinee against SIUE, who had an overall winning record but finished 5th of 6 in the MAC. The SIUE game is available on BTN+.
Games: Sat Aug 24, 1p v. MSU (exhibition), Sun Aug 25, 1p v. OSU (exhibition), Fri Aug 30, 6p v. UNC, Sun Sep 1, 11:30a v. Wake Forest
Field Hockey is a historically strong program for Michigan and last year was no exception. The Wolverines split the Big Ten Regular Season title with Maryland, and finished #8 in the country. Their tournament efforts fell short, however. In the Big Ten Tournament, the 2-seed Wolverines took an upset to 6-seed Iowa in the semis. And in the NCAA Tournament, the Wolverines took down St. Joe’s in the opening round before running into undefeated juggernaut and eventual national champion North Carolina, on the Tarheels’ home turf in Chapel Hill. The Wolverines will have to replace their top goal scorer and B1G Offensive POY Emma Way, but #2 scorer Meg Dowthwaite (10 G) returns. Last year they started a freshman in goal in Anna Spieker, and she will be looking to make that sophomore leap towards elite status.
The Wolverines open their season with two exhibition against conference rivals MSU and OSU. MSU was the worst team in the Big Ten last year, and while OSU was 7th of 9, their overall winning record should get the Wolverines ready for the season. Michigan opens the season by playing in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, which is formatted very differently from its basketball counterpart: The participants are always North Carolina, Wake Forest, Iowa, and Michigan, and it is a single-site event that rotates between the four campuses. As previously stated, North Carolina is the defending national champion, beating Michigan 5-1 at last year’s Challenge and 5-2 in the tournament. Wake Forest finished #12 last season, and took the 3-2 victory over Michigan last season. All Field Hockey games are free to attend, so bring the whole family.
Games: Fri. Aug 30, 11a, Oakland, 7:30p, N. Arizona, Sat Aug 31, 2p, Tenn Tech.
Michigan Volleyball coaches Mark and Leisa Rosen celebrated their 20th season at the helm in 2018, and look to enter their third decade with a return to the NCAA Tournament. Michigan had middling Big Ten results last season, coming in 7th, but a strong non-conference season and the inherent strength of schedule that comes with playing in the Big Ten got them to the tournament, where they found success. The Wolverines reached the Sweet 16 after sweeping Navy and defeating host Pitt in a 3-2 nailbiter, winning the final 2 games to overcome a 2-1 deficit. The Wolverines then traveled to Provo, Utah, where they were dispatched by #5 Texas. They finished #12 in the polls, and will open this year at #15. Strong attendance at Cliff Keen has been rewarded with a record six games in Crisler Center, ensuring more Wolverines fans will have an opportunity to see their volleyball team. The Wolverines lose All-Big Ten seniors Carly Skjodt and Jenna Lerg (first and second team, respectively), but return Paige Jones, who was second on the team in kills, and MacKenzi Welsh, who trailed only Skjodt and Lerg in digs.
The Wolverines open with the Michigan Invitational, an annual 4-team event. This year’s opponents are Oakland, Northern Arizona, and Tennessee Tech. Northern Arizona is likely the strongest of the bunch, as the defending Big Sky Champions, and the only team of the bunch to finish 2018 with a winning record. Michigan has a 14 game win streak in the Michigan Invite, with their last loss being Kansas St. in 2014. With a win over NAU in the second game of Friday’s doubleheader (it’s actually a quadruple header, NAU/TT opens, followed by M/Oak, TT/Oak, M/NAU, it looks like only M/NAU tickets are for sale but I would guess that that ticket gets you into all four), Michigan should extend that streak to 17.
Meet: Fri Aug 30, Michigan Open, Dexter, MI. Men: 10a, Women: 10:30a.
The Michigan women’s cross country team had a successful season in 2018, winning their third straight Big Ten Championship in 2018, as well as their fourth straight regional championship. They came fourth in the National Championship meet, and are in a prime position to continue their conference dominance. While they will lose their top performer at the conference meet, Avery Evanson (3rd overall), they will retain other major contributors. Anne Forsyth, who came in 8th overall at the B1Gs and led Michigan at 3rd overall at the Great Lakes Regional Championship, will return, as will their top performer at the National Championships, Camille Davre (29th overall).
The Michigan men’s cross country team could not complete the Big Ten title sweep (as they did in 2007), coming in 4th at the Big Ten Championship Meet. They improved on that performance to come in 3rd at the Great Lakes Regional Championship, before finishing 19th at the National Championships. The future is bright, they will return Regional and National Championships fastest finisher Jack Aho (10th and 35th overall, respectively), as well as Big Ten top performer Jordy Hewitt (13th overall).
The Michigan Open was not an interscholastic competition last year, with participants either competing as Michigan runners, or rostered Michigan runners competing as “unattached” to preserve redshirt status. This year it appears that Eastern Michigan has the men’s competition on their schedule, but not on their women’s schedule. Even so, there will be no team scoring, and the Wolverines’ first team meet will not be until late September.