Aug. 22, 2006
Youthful Gophers look to continue the resurgence of the Minnesota soccer program.
Third-year head coach Mikki Denney Wright has everyone around the Golden Gopher soccer program optimistic about a successful future. After winning a combined five conference matches in the previous three years, the Gophers went 6-4 in the Big Ten last season and advanced to the conference tournament for the first time since 2000.
Despite having just one senior on the roster, the Gophers return a solid nucleus of players who were instrumental in the team's success last season. Minnesota also welcomes the 13th-ranked recruiting class in the nation, including five players who were ranked in the top 100.
Freshmen will be counted on immediately to fill a number of spots in the lineup, with as many as five rookies projected to start the season opener against Drake on Aug. 25. The Gophers' success will therefore depend on how quickly the young players are able to adapt to the college game.
Under Denney Wright, it has not been uncommon for freshmen to contribute immediately. The Golden Gophers started as many as six rookies last season and nine freshmen saw significant playing time. The newcomers accounted for 14 of the team's 20 goals and 18 of 22 assists on the year.
"If you can play it doesn't matter what year you are," Denney Wright said. "We had a number of freshmen win out starting positions last year. It's going to get harder and harder in our program to win a starting position because of the level of talent we have recruited. It's a testament to where this program is going and it will only help make us a better team."
With four of the top five scorers returning, the Minnesota coaching staff is confident the Gophers will score more goals than they did a year ago.
Leading the Gopher forwards will be sophomore Lindsey Schwartz, who became only the third freshman in school history to lead the team in scoring with six goals and 17 assists last year.
Redshirt freshman Elena Fruci is anxious to get back on the field and help carry the scoring load. A former NSCAA/adidas High School All-American and player of the year in Minnesota, Fruci was forced to sit out all of last year after suffering an injury during the offseason.
Sophomores Nikki Jensen, Sara Johnson and Marti Klinsing, as well as freshman Kirsten Zachman will provide depth at the top of the lineup for the Golden Gophers.
The area where the Gophers have the most depth is in the midfield. Sophomores Kelsey Hood, Clare Grimwood and Kaitlin Wagner all had productive first seasons, each ranking in the top five in scoring for the Gophers a year ago.
An All-Big Ten Freshman selection, Hood will quarterback the Minnesota attack in 2006. In just her second year with the program, Hood is one of the team's leaders on the pitch.
Grimwood was also an All-Big Ten Freshman selection and earned Soccer Buzz All-Region Freshman honors as a defender but will primarily play in the midfield in 2006. One of the best playmakers on the team, she led the Gophers with seven assists last year.
Wagner was one of Minnesota's most consistent performers a year ago. She ranked fourth on the team in scoring and tied for the team lead with two game-winning goals.
Also looking to make an immediate impact are freshman Kelly Wepking and transfer Renee de St. Aubin. Wepking was a top-75 national recruit and is one of the best pure soccer players on the team. A native of Stillwater, Minn., de St. Aubin joins the Golden Gophers after spending two seasons at Iowa State. She was the Cyclones' second leading scorer last year.
Freshman Sara Clancy and Becky Rowe will also battle for playing time in the midfield.
The Golden Gophers will employ a less experienced defensive unit in 2006 due to the loss of a couple of regulars to graduation. Despite the youth, the coaching staff is confident in the team's ability to defend.
Leading the defensive unit will be junior captain Hailey McCarthy. She has started all 37 games of her career and has been Minnesota's leader in back since her freshman season. McCarthy has helped Minnesota cut its goals-against average from a Big Ten worst 2.38 in 2003 to 1.43 in 2004 to 0.84 last year.
Freshmen Dana Tripp, Jenny Green and Lyndsey Mueller are expected to compete for the other starting spots in back. The top defender in the state last year, Tripp earned Minnesota's "Ms. Soccer" award and was a national top-100 recruit. Green was also a top-100 recruit and was the most valuable player at the 2005 USYS Club Nationals. Mueller competed with the Iowa ODP team from 1999-05 and helped her club team to five state titles.
Providing depth on the defensive end will be junior Allison Kempainen and sophomore Carlie Edwards. Kempainen, who has started 23 of 25 career matches, will provide valuable experience to the young defensive corps. Edwards appeared in 10 matches a year ago and will compete for more minutes this year.
The Gophers lose All-Big Ten goalkeeper Molly Schneider, but they have two very capable players in Chelsey Turner and Lindsey Dare who will battle it out for the starting spot between the posts in 2006.
A native of Rochester, Minn., Turner became the first goalkeeper ever to win the state's "Ms. Soccer" award last year. She has consistently been ranked as one of the top goalkeepers in the nation in her age group.
Challenging Turner will be the veteran Dare, who has developed immensely over the last two seasons behind Schneider. Dare is one of the most experienced players on the team and provides valuable leadership both on and off the field.
With so much young talent on the roster, expectations are high heading into the 2006 campaign. The Gophers look to continue making strides toward getting back to the top of the Big Ten.