Aug. 20, 2008
After finishing in the top half of the Big Ten standings in 2007 and qualifying for the Big Ten Tournament for the second time in three years, Golden Gopher fifth-year head coach Mikki Denney Wright has solidified her program’s goal of moving Minnesota Soccer into the upper echelon of the Big Ten Conference.
This season, the Gophers will return each of their top five scorers from 2007 and will look to make the jump to an NCAA Tournament-caliber program. In addition to making a push to the top of the Big Ten, the 2008 season will mark the completion of the Minnesota Soccer careers of Denney Wright’s first full recruiting class. During her tenure, Denney Wright and her staff have put a premium on outfitting the best Minnesotan and Upper Midwestern soccer talent in Maroon and Gold.
“I’m very proud of this senior class because they have been the ones that have worked so hard to help our program make our transition to the top half of the Big Ten,” Denney Wright said. “Many of our seniors have played nearly every minute of every game during their careers at Minnesota.”
Collectively, the Gophers’ eight seniors have made 327 starts, while collecting 148 points, 52 goals and 473 shots during their collegiate careers. These battle-tested veterans will look to lead the remainder of a talented Gopher roster this season and take Minnesota Soccer to the next level.
The defensive unit returns key contributors from 2007 in sophomores Jennie Clark and Kylie Kallman. Buoyed by the transfer of Kallman’s sister, Krystle, from a West Virginia program that she led to an NCAA Elite Eight appearance a year ago, the Gophers will run out an accomplished group that is both immensely talented and experienced playing together.
“[Krystle Kallman] was very successful during her time at West Virginia, but she has very strong family ties here in the state of Minnesota,” Denney Wright said. “She brings such a great element of experience for us.”
The Gophers also expect a significant contribution to their defensive set from true freshman Josie Solie. Dana Tripp will add depth to a unit that Denney Wright and her staff believe is the most improved from a year ago.
Under the tutelage of assistant coach Jerrod Roh, Gopher netminder Lindsey Dare looks to make an assault on the Minnesota record books this fall. The owner of a career 0.90 goals against average (GAA), Dare needs to log just 200:25 this season between the pipes to qualify for the Gopher career record books. Along with sophomore Katie Roberts and accomplished incoming freshman Cat Parkhill, Dare and her fellow keepers form a formidable goalkeeping core.
“Goalkeeping has definitely been a strong point for Minnesota Soccer the last five years,” Denney Wright said. “This year, I think our goalkeepers have the potential to be one of the best groups in the Big Ten.”
With a group that Denney Wright describes as ‘the brain’ of the Minnesota effort, the Gophers will employ a system that includes three central midfielders and a pair of wide midfielders where possible this season. The ‘X-factor’ for the 2008 version of Minnesota Soccer looks to be the three-headed senior monster in the middle of the Gophers’ midfield attack. Seniors Kelsey Hood, Kaitlin Wagner and Clare Grimwood are among the most experienced and accomplished midfield group in the Big Ten.
“Those three have played almost every minute of their college careers since they stepped on the field for Minnesota Soccer as freshmen,” Denney Wright said of her central midfield group.
Incoming freshman Shari Eckstrom, along with veterans Lindsey Mueller, Carlie Edwards and Elena Fruci, will also contribute significantly in the center of the midfield.
After averaging 18.7 goals per season in Denney Wright’s first three years at the helm, the offensive unit exploded for 31 goals in 2007, the most for the program since the 1999 campaign. Much of the success of the forwards a season ago could be attributed to the solid play of veteran Lindsey Schwartz coupled with the emergence of 2007 All-Big Ten Freshman honorees Katie Bethke and Molly Rouse.
“I think that the forward position has the potential to be one of our biggest growth areas this year,” Denney Wright said. “This group has a lot of talent.”
One of the keys to continued improvement on the offensive end in 2008 will be how Sara Clancy figures into the mix as well as the addition of incoming freshman and Burnsville, Minn. native Tamara Strahota up top.
In order to make the jump onto the national scene, the Gophers know that they will have to prove that they can compete with many high-level programs across the country. In addition to playing five Big Ten Conference foes who qualified for the NCAA Championship a year ago (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue), Minnesota also meets a number of quality opponents during non-conference play. Minnesota will host 2007 NCAA Tournament participant Creighton at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie stadium on Sept. 7 and will host perennial regional power Boston University on Sept. 21.
“Our goal is always to play the best competition possible,” Denney Wright said. “The schedule will be a good test for our team.”
After leading the Big Ten in home attendance and hosting the Big Ten Tournament last year, the Gophers are encouraged at the prospects of hosting 10 matches this year at ‘The Robbie,’ three more than the seven matches they hosted in 2007.
“We’re excited to have a lot of home games. It’s great for our seniors to have the opportunity to play in front of friends and family,” Denney Wright said.
Although the 2007 Gophers were the highest finishing Big Ten program to miss an at-large bid to the NCAA Championship, their experience battling down the stretch of a Big Ten schedule that included a victory over perennial Big Ten stalwart Penn State and a shootout loss to Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals will undoubtedly aid them in their quest to make the next critical jump in 2008.
“Our coaching staff feels that we’ve been successful establishing Minnesota Soccer in the upper half of the Big Ten,” Denney Wright said. “The goal for our team is moving the program into the top three in the Big Ten and going to the NCAA Tournament.”
With the addition of a small but significant 2008 recruiting class, the Gophers are armed with a solid mix of proven veterans, mature role players and talented youngsters that are poised for chance at one of the Big Ten’s best records and perhaps their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1999.