Aug. 26, 2004
There's something in the air at the University of Minnesota. A new sense of optimism has arrived on campus with the hiring of Mikki Denney Wright as head coach of the Golden Gopher soccer team. Denney Wright not only brings a new vision to the program, but also a link to the late 1990s when she was a key member of Golden Gopher squads that dominated the Big Ten Conference.
"As a staff, I think we were surprised at the amount of talent that we did inherit," Denney Wright said. "We inherited a group of players that are hungry to win. I have been amazed at how coachable they have been and how quickly they've bought into our philosophy."
The returnees include 14 letterwinners with eight starters back in the fold. The nucleus is highlighted by All-Big Ten Freshman Haley Lentsch and the team's second-leading scorer, Becky Dellaria. The Golden Gophers also return their top two goalkeepers in Karli Kopietz and Marni Prall.
Minnesota will benefit from a pair of impact transfers and the return of junior defender Tierney Palmer-Klein who sat out last season while studying abroad. Senior forward Regina Moench was a three-time all-conference honoree at Creighton University, while goalkeeper Molly Schneider appeared in 35 matches in two seasons at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Dellaria also broke onto the scene in her sophomore season with the Maroon and Gold. After posting one assist as a freshman, she exploded for 16 points last season.
Entering just her first season with the Golden Gophers, Moench may already rank among the elite players in the Big Ten. After three outstanding seasons at Creighton, she joins Minnesota as a three-time all-conference honoree.
An addition to the forward corps in 2004 is junior Hilary Stowell. A starter in 33 consecutive matches, she will be given a look up front after spending two seasons as a defender and playing at midfield.
Neary was off to an eye-opening start to her sophomore campaign before being sidelined eight matches by injury. She had two game-winning goals and an assist in the first five games of the year as the Golden Gophers got off to a 3-1-1 start.
Joining the duo will likely be Megan Fightmaster, a freshman out of Fort Collins, Colo. A two-time all-state selection in high school, Fightmaster has been a force on one of Colorado's premier club teams, the Real Colorado National Team.
Others will also see time at the midfield, including Palmer-Klein, Stowell and freshman Hailey McCarthy. McCarthy is the first-ever player from the state of Oregon to play for the Golden Gophers and was an all-state performer.
A welcomed addition will be Palmer-Klein, who spent the 2003 season studying abroad in Chile. She started every game during the 2001 and '02 seasons and her experience is expected to pay big dividends.
Joining Palmer-Klein will be senior Jen Cressman, junior Nicki Burnie and sophomore Lisa Berg. Cressman is the most experienced Golden Gopher with 52 career matches, including 40 starts. She started all 18 matches for Minnesota in 2003 and tallied her first career point with an assist on the game-tying goal against Creighton.
Burnie moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore last season and became Minnesota's best one-on-one defender. A tremendous competitor, Burnie started the final 10 matches of the 2003 season. Berg worked her way back into the lineup last season after suffering a season-ending knee injury as a freshman.
A newcomer on defense will be junior Laura Hoppe. A regular for the past two years up front, Hoppe made the switch to defender and will play a big role for the Golden Gophers this season. She started all 18 matches for Minnesota last season and scored three goals in the team's final six matches.
Senior Marni Prall will look to a strong spring season as a springboard to bigger things in her final year with the Golden Gophers. A former transfer from Wisconsin-Green Bay, Prall appeared in a career-high 10 matches last season and started the final six matches of the year.
Following an outstanding freshman season, junior Karli Kopietz was beset by knee injuries, which have limited her in her first two seasons. When healthy, Kopietz has the potential to be one of the top goalkeepers in the league.
Along with a pair of experienced returnees, the competition for playing time gets even tighter with the transfer of Schneider from Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Schneider was 10-7-4 in her two seasons at UWM with a 1.17 goals-against-average.