September 27, 2006
Senior goalie a calming
force for Wolverines
By Colt Rosensweig
Daily Sports Writer,
In eighth grade, Beth Riley traded her soccer
goal for a field hockey cage after her friends vol-
unteered her for the position.
She's been there ever since.
The senior, now in her fourth year as Michi-
gan's last line of defense, is a calming influence
on her teammates. Always even-keeled and never
panicky, Riley consistently keeps the Wolverines
She also tends to shut down other teams'
attacks. In 70 total collegiate games, Riley has
logged 15 shutouts, including a recent 1-0 nail-
biter against Louisville.
"You know she's going to get it, and if it gets
through, it's not like she freaks out like a lot of
other goalies," said freshman Kelly Fitzpatrick,
who played with Riley on the Palmyra Area High
School field hockey team in Palmyra, Pa. "She
just regains her (composure) and does an awe-
some job the rest of the game."
Fitzpatrick also noted that Riley controls the
ball better than other goalies. In addition to
kicking or swatting the ball away from the goal,
Riley likes to direct it to one of her teammates in
the backfield, setting up the next attack.
But Riley directs more than the ball. In her
years at Michigan, she has developed into an
expert manager of her defenders, placing them
exactly where they need to be in front of her
"In a Division I program, as a goalkeeper,
you're the last line of defense, and if somebody
is not on their mark or the proper line, that's
(Riley's) responsibility," Michigan coach Nancy
Cox described Riley as a "rock" the Wolver-
ines can always depend on. Whether Michigan
is in a blowout or a tight game, winning or los-
ing, the goalkeeper plays at the same exceptional
Riley has unshakable confidence in her team
and her own abilities. This allows her to keep
her composure even during tough times like the
rough start Michigan experienced this season, in
which it lost its first four games.
"You just have to stay motivated and do what
you know you can do," Riley said. "If we're
struggling, if they're having a lot of fast breaks,
maybe you need to pull a defender back a little
bit, give them more space. You just need to make
adjustments and something will happen."
Riley's sparkling stats speak for themselves
about what can happen.
The Palmyra native was named Big Ten Defen-
sive Player of the Week after a weekend in which
she notched wins against Ball State and Louis-
ville. Her career record is 51-19, and her career
goals-against average is a superb 1.49 per game.
But for Riley, those statistics and individual
achievements come in a distant second to her
"I hope to match our Big Ten Tournament win
(from last season) and hopefully this year we'll
go back to the Final Four," Riley said. "I remem-
ber freshman year how much fun that was, and
just what type of a rush I felt when we played
Wake Forest in that semifinal game. I just hope
that we can do that, and that other stuff will
come as it may."
Riley will face her next test this Friday when
the suddenly red-hot Wolverines take on No. 9
Penn State. Michigan has won three straight,
including five of the last six games.
By Stephanie Wright
Daily Sports Editor
When Alan Branch was a sopho-
more in high school,he weighed 280
pounds and ran a 49 40-yard dash.
Not exactly blink-and-you'll-
miss-him speed, but surprisingly
fast for a man thatbig.
Branch's quickness came in
handy during his first two seasons
as a Wolverine, when he split time
between defensive tackle and defen-
sive end. When Branch lined up
outside, he could use speed moves
to blow past blockers and get into
the backfield. In 10 starts last year,
Branch tallied five sacks and seven
tackles for loss.
"If Alan Branch gets free up
the middle, he's definitely going to
get a good hit on the quarterback,"
senior co-captain LaMarr Woodley
said. "He's fast. When quarterbacks
take off running, Branch is behind
This season, the junior is still
going after the quarterback, but
he hasn't been able to show off his
speed quite as much.
With the graduation of last year's
starting tackles, Pat Massey and
Gabe Watson, Branch moved to
tackle full-time before the season
began. The switch meant Branch
had to start using his muscle more
than his motor.
"When you're on the inside, you
can't really use speed moves that
much because it leaves open lanes
for the quarterback to scramble,"
Branch said. "So I'm kind of forced
to use power moves and try to get
sacks that way."
Branch said he still needs to
adjust to not using speed moves all
the time. But he doesn't mind the
change - as long as he keeps get-
Blue anticipates clean
slate in Big Ten season
Defensive tackle Alan Branch notched his first sack of the se
Wolverines' win over Wisconsin last Saturday.
If that's the case, he must have
been very happy with the switch
on Saturday. Branch spent the first
three quarters of the game drilling
Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco
just seconds after he released the
ball, including one monster hit early
in the second.
Then, just minutes into the fourth
quarter, Branch powered past the
Badgers' offensive line and sacked
sack of the season. Michigan coach
Lloyd Carr called it thebest game of
"You can feel the power," Carr
said after the game. "He made a
couple plays in the second half
where he was a dominating physi-
cal force. He's a big guy. He's bigger
than most offensive linemen."
But Branch hasn't always been
as strong as the players he lines up
against. Before coming to Michi-
gan, the Albuquerque, N.M., native
had never been a gym rat. In high
school, he played running back and
wide receiver, positions where brute
strength isn't as important.
Once he arrived in Ann Arbor,
Branch soon realized his natural
strength wasn't going to cut it. In
his first round of strength tests as a
freshman, he lifted 225 pounds just
11 times. Smaller first-year players
like wide receiver Doug Dutch com-
pleted more reps than Branch, who
knew he had to "fix that real quick."
This offseason,Branch finally did.
In August, he said he had achieved
his No. 1 goal over the summer:
lifting weights and getting stronger.
Newly bulked up, he can now finish
at least 36 reps of 225 pounds.
Unlike many of his teammates
who slimmed down in the offsea-
son, Branch weighs 331 pounds, 20
more than last year - just the mass
he needed to plug up the middle of
Michigan's defensive line.
Always his own biggest critic,
Branch isn't content with his play so
far this season. He wants to see him-
self make more "great effort" plays
to force fumbles and get sacks.
If Branch holds true to form,he'll
reach that goal in no time flat.
By Alex Prosperi
For the Daily
The Big Ten women's soccer
season isn't big. It's huge.
And Big Ten games aren't just
"Big Ten games build rival-
ries," junior Melissa Dobbyn said.
"It's a whole new season, a second
Michigan (0-1-0 Big Ten, 4-4-2
overall) hopes it fares better in its
second season than its first. The
Wolverines ended their noncon-
ference schedule by losing three
of four games.
But Michigan coach Debbie
Rademacher knows that the Big
Ten brings increased anticipation
and more focus.
"Every game makes a differ-
ence," Rademacher said. "If you
want to be the Big Ten champion,
you need to win at least eight
games in the Big Ten."
The importance of playing well
in the Big Ten season is simple.
Only the top eight teams make the
Big Ten Tournament, where the
winner gets an automatic bid to
the NCAA Tournament. In order
to get an at-large bid, a team must
have an overall record above .500.
An NCAA berth is bound to be
on the mind of any team. But right
now, it's all about the Big Ten for
"It's so early in the Big Ten
season that it's too early to think
about the NCAA Tournament,"
Rademacher said. "We just need
to focus on playing well and
improving each game."
Dobbyn, Michigan's biggest
offensive threat, and senior
goalkeeper Megan Tuura said
the team must play better if it
wants any shot at making either
"We need to start scoring some
goals," Dobbyn said. "But our
defensive presence is there, a total
180 from last year."
With Tuura guarding the net, it's
nearly impossible to score against
the Wolverines. In her first seven .
games prior to sustaining a shoul-
der injury against Notre Dame,
Tuura let just two balls get by her.
Tuura missed the last two games,
but hopes to play Friday.
"We are playing as a unit defen-
sively," Tuura said. "We just need
Junior Melissa Dobbyn looks to increase scoring against the Big Ten.
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The University of Michigan
w ^. l _ . 1 _ .- - 1 _I _ _.__
to combine the rest of the team,
get close and come together."
The team's optimistic leaders
will have to put the pedal to the
medal on Friday, when the Wol-
verines face off against Purdue.
Last season, Michigan lost 1-
0 to the Boilermakers. Purdue is
a strong physical team that will
test the Wolverines' defense. Two
days later, Michigan plays Indi-
ana, which beat the Wolverines
2-1 last year.
"The fact that we have them
at home, two teams who are at
the top of the Big Ten, there's
a lot to play for, and we feel we
can do well against these teams,"
The Big Ten season also brings
out more competitiveness in the
"People from the Midwest in
general are in the Big Ten," Tuura
said. "That makes it more person-
al. We also know them better and
can prepare for them better."
The Wolverines know the Big
Ten season is what makes or
breaks a team's season.
"Our goal is to be the Big Ten
champions," Dobbyn said. "Men-
tally, we are going out there feel-
ing like we have to win every
If Michigan can come reason-
ably close to its goal, this could be
a huge season for the Wolverines.