Last season, former Maize n Brew writer Jacob Shames highlighted a striking factoid about the Michigan women’s soccer team:
“Of the Big Ten’s 14 women’s soccer programs, 10 have won a conference tournament championship since 2000. Northwestern hasn’t won the tournament since it began in 1994, while Maryland and Rutgers have only been members of the Big Ten since 2014.
“That leaves one team unaccounted for, and it’s a surprising one — Michigan.”
So much for that one, huh?
After a good, not great regular season, the Wolverines turned it up about five notches. They marched into Piscataway and brought home their first Big Ten Tournament title in 22 years, avenging their worst loss of the season — a 4-1 mopping to Rutgers on the same pitch — in the process. Though their NCAA run came up short of glory, it matched the program’s deepest run in tournament history.
Michigan’s goal is clear — build off last year’s late run and keep filling the trophy case. To do so, the Wolverines will have to navigate a staggering amount of departures in all three areas of the pitch, in less time than they’d probably like.
As previously mentioned, the sheer amount of turnover in Michigan’s starting lineup is jaw-dropping. Of its top 11 minutes leaders, eight graduated this past spring — including point leaders Raleigh Loughman and Nicki Hernandez, defensive anchors Alia Martin and Sydney Shepherd, midfield captain Sarah Strategakis and stalwart goalkeeper Hillary Beall.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, between the three players that return and the others that look to step into starting roles, there’s more than enough potential to prevent a seismic impact on the program.
Any look at Michigan’s roster has to start with Jayde Riviere. The senior defender is not only one of the best in college soccer, she’s one of the best players in the world — having garnered consistent starts on the Canada Women’s National Team since the 2019 Women’s World Cup. As part of the Wolverines, Riviere has played primarily in an adaptive wing-back role, drifting as far as the upper third of the pitch in order to take and regain possession.
While the loss of Beall in goal is certainly significant, her successor Izzy Nino has been perhaps Michigan’s best kept secret. Nino is a quick, smart keeper who looks more than prepared to take the reins both in goal and in orchestrating the defense.
In the attack, Hannah Blake, Sammi Woods and Lily Farkas are expected to match — if not potentially surpass — the production of Loughman and Hernandez last season. Both Blake and Farkas were named to the Big Ten Preseason Watch List on Monday, while Woods was named to the All-Freshman team in 2020-21.
The biggest question for the Wolverines is in the center midfield. While having Avery Kalitta — herself a Preseason Watch List member — and Meredith Haakenson is certainly a boon, both players have tendencies to stay in one area of the pitch; Kalitta holding closer to the back line, Haakenson playing more to support the attack. Observations from Michigan’s exhibitions against Bowling Green and Virginia noted slips in the coverage in-between these two ends, something head coach Jenn Klein surely will look to keep to a minimum as the regular season starts in earnest.
The Wolverines enter the year ranked No. 9 in the preseason United Soccer Coaches Poll, their highest preseason ranking in program history. However, they’re not alone at the top in the conference: Rutgers enters above them at No. 6, while Penn State enters just below at No. 14.
In the Big Ten’s preseason coaches poll, Michigan was ranked third in the conference, with the Scarlet Knights and the Nittany Lions tied for first. Both teams will present significant challenges for the Wolverines, but they have the fortune of only playing one away from Ann Arbor.
Closer to home, Michigan State retains the services of Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year Lauren Kozal, who saved seven shots in a tight 1-0 loss to Michigan last year. While the Spartans are ranked sixth in the conference preseason poll, the Wolverines will undoubtedly be keeping a close eye on the calendar for their road trip to East Lansing in early October.
It’s one thing to reach the mountaintop, it’s another to stay there. While Michigan came together when it counted last season to end the title drought, it can’t waste any time this year if it wants to keep the trophies coming.
Schedule (times ET)
- August 18 (7 p.m.) vs Washington State
- August 21 (Noon) vs Butler
- August 25 (7 p.m.) at Boston College (Newton, Massachusetts)
- August 28 (Noon) at Boston University (Boston, Massachusetts)
- September 1 (7 p.m.) vs Iowa State
- September 4 (3 p.m.) at Central Michigan (Mount Pleasant, Michigan)
- September 8 (7 p.m.) vs Colorado
- September 11 (1 p.m.) at Toledo (Toledo, Ohio)
- September 16 (7 p.m.) at Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- September 22 (7 p.m.) vs Ohio State
- September 25 (1 p.m.) vs Nebraska
- September 29 (8 p.m.) at Minnesota (Minneapolis, Minnesota — TV: Big Ten Network)
- October 2 (2 p.m.) at Iowa (Iowa City, Iowa)
- October 9 (Noon) at Michigan State (East Lansing, Michigan — TV: Big Ten Network)
- October 13 (6 p.m.) vs Northwestern
- October 16 (1 p.m.) at Penn State (State College, Pennsylvania)
- October 20 (7 p.m.) vs Rutgers (TV: Big Ten Network)
- October 23 (1 p.m.) vs Indiana
- October 30: Big Ten Tournament begins