Aug. 25, 2005
It's not a question of "if", but a matter of "when". The Gopher soccer team took its first step toward a return to Big Ten prominence in 2004. They look to continue the journey in 2005 under second-year head coach Mikki Denney Wright.
A year after collecting the program's most wins since 2000 and signing arguably the top recruiting class in the history of the program, Minnesota will feature a more talented, deeper and athletic squad this season.
The leadership of the team's seven seniors will be key with 19 underclassmen, including a freshman class of 14. The talented rookies will be counted on immediately with as many as six projected to start. The group is led by national top-100 recruit Kelsey Hood, along with Minnesota player of the year Elena Fruci and Iowa player of the year Lindsey Schwartz. The class also features four of the top five recruits out of the state of Minnesota.
Injuries and a lack of depth led to little scoring last season, but what a difference a year makes. With the addition of three talented freshmen, along with the return of senior Becky Dellaria, the coaching staff is optimistic about the prospects up front.
One of the fastest athletes in the Big Ten, Dellaria led the Gophers in scoring last season with three goals and 12 points. After totaling just one point as a freshman, Dellaria currently ranks 12th in school history with 29 career points.
Other returnees looking for playing time up front include seniors Kaitlin Neary and Laura Hoppe. Neary returned from a 2003 injury to rank fourth on the team with three goals and seven points last season. Hoppe has seen time at both forward and defense during her career and has started all 36 matches during the past two seasons.
The coaching staff is excited about the three freshmen competing for starting jobs at forward. Along with Schwartz, Marti Klinsing and Jamie Cheever will look to make an impact. Schwartz was a three-year member of the Iowa Olympic Development Team, as well as multi-sport letterwinner in four different sports at Pleasant Valley High School.
A member of the Minnesota Olympic Development Program (ODP), Klinsing was one of the top goal scorers in the state last season out of Wayzata High School. Cheever is the fastest player on the roster. She was a member of the Minnesota ODP from 2000-03.
Providing additional depth up front will be freshmen Nikki Jensen and Kalli and Kara Elias. A big loss for the Gophers was an injury suffered by freshman Elena Fruci. The Minnesota State Player of the Year will redshirt this season.
Underclassmen will also play a key role in the Minnesota midfield with sophomore Megan Fightmaster, freshmen Kelsey Hood, Kaitlin Wagner and Ashley Seeler joining senior Annie Carr.
A highly-touted recruit out of Fort Collins, Colo., Fightmaster was sidelined most of her freshmen season because of an offseason injury. She returned to play sparingly in the final four games, but with a year to heal, should be a major force in the middle.
The veteran of the midfield, Carr's 55 matches played are the most of any Gopher on the roster.
One of the biggest recruits in the school's history, Hood brings credentials not seen at Minnesota since Jennifer McElmury roamed the pitch. A national top-100 recruit, Hood was a member of the Region II team from 2000-04, as well as a multiple ESP National Camp participant.
Another highly-touted recruit, Wagner is in line for a starting position in the midfield. An all-state performer at Wayzata High School, Wagner was a three-year member of the Minnesota ODP, as well as the state's premier club team, St. Croix Elite.
Also pushing for playing time, Seeler was ranked as one of the top five recruits by the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association after a stellar career at Eden Prairie High School.
Minnesota's defense will have a veteran presence after being decimated a year ago with injuries. The Gophers lost three starters to injury and were forced to start three freshmen. This season, Minnesota will benefit from that experience.
A pair of seniors return to anchor the back. Tierney Palmer-Klein and Nicki Burnie bring a wealth of experience. Palmer-Klein played every minute of the first seven matches in 2004, but was sidelined for the remainder of the year because of injury. Burnie was also a starter who was hit by injury, which severely limited her over the final month of the season.
Despite having three veterans on defense, the leader in back will likely be sophomore Hailey McCarthy. After the injuries beset the team last year, it was McCarthy who stepped up and led the vastly improved Gopher defense.
Another sophomore who was asked to step up last year as a freshman was Allison Kempainen. She made 12 starts as a rookie, including the final 10 matches of the year.
One rookie who is expected to break into the starting lineup on defense is highly-touted recruit Clare Grimwood. Able to play the left side, she was also one of the top recruits out of Minnesota. A two-time all-state selection, Grimwood was a member of the Minnesota ODP for four years.
Three more freshmen looking to make an impact on defense include Carlie Edwards, Elise Bjerkenas and Sara Hegre. Edwards was a two-time all-state selection at Simley High School. Bjerkenas was an all-state performer out of Wayzata High School, while Hegre was a standout at Hopkins High School.
Despite a freshman class of 14, Minnesota will have two returnees minding the net this season in senior Molly Schneider and redshirt freshman Lindsey Dare. Last season, Schneider played every minute of every match, while her five shutouts were the most by a goalkeeper since 2000.
While listed as the starter entering the season, Schneider will be pushed by Dare, a gifted athlete who sat out last season due to injury. Dare was an NSCAA/Adidas All-Midwest selection as a high school senior.