Aug. 29, 2007
In terms of talent, the Minnesota soccer program is somewhere it has not been in several years. Without losing a single player to graduation and with the addition of another stellar recruiting class, the Golden Gophers are deeper and more talented than they have been in perhaps a decade.
Fourth-year head coach Mikki Denney Wright has put a premium on recruiting the top players not only from the state of Minnesota, but also throughout the entire country. The result has been three-straight recruiting classes ranked in the top 10 in the region.
The combination of talent and depth has produced competition for nearly every spot in the starting lineup heading into the season, which bodes well for the Gophers as they look to continue their rise to prominence.
The Gophers will also play host to the Big Ten Tournament at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Nov. 8-11, for the first time since 1997.
"We're excited to bring the Big Ten Women's Soccer Tournament to the state of Minnesota," Denney Wright said. "We're very proud of that and we're ready to show our fans and the rest of the conference that we can be really competitive in the Big Ten."
With another year of experience under their belts and another crop of top talent added to the mix, the Gophers appear poised to climb in the Big Ten standings.
Since taking over the program in 2004, Denney Wright has built her teams around defense, but after scoring just three goals in 10 conference games last year, Minnesota put an increased emphasis on building the attack over the off-season.
The Gophers return both of their primary scoring threats from 2006 in Lindsey Schwartz and Elena Fruci. Schwartz has been the team's most valuable offensive player in each of her first two seasons, while Fruci ranked third on the team in points scored.
To add skill and depth up top, sophomore Sara Clancy and junior Carlie Edwards moved up from their respective midfield and defensive positions. Both performed very well during the spring season in their front-line debuts.
Freshmen Julie Rezac and Katie Bethke are each expected to compete for starting spots right away, and both should help bolster an attack that ranked last in the conference in scoring a year ago. The Gophers will also welcome Angie Olson, the Ms. Minnesota of soccer, an attacking player that boasts impressive speed.
"You can't just be great at attacking, you have to be phenomenal to score goals in the Big Ten," stressed Denney Wright about her team's need to improve offensively. "That's what we hope to be."
Midfield has been an area of strength for the Golden Gophers for the past several seasons, and 2007 will be no exception. The returning midfield unit consists of juniors Clare Grimwood, Kelsey Hood and Kaitlin Wagner, all of who have played nearly every minute of every game during their Gopher careers.
Grimwood has started 38 straight games for Minnesota, while Hood earned a spot on the All-Big Ten second team last year and the All-Big Ten Freshman Team in 2005. Wagner, the third member of Minnesota's returning midfield trio, enters her junior season with 20 career points and emerged as a legitimate scoring threat last fall.
"Those three are the heart of our midfield," said Denney Wright about the trio of Grimwood, Hood and Wagner. "They've really taken the reigns and taken over the leadership roles in this program."
Sophomore Kelly Wepking made her collegiate debut last fall, and the 2005 Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year will be an impact player once again for the Gophers, solidifying what could be the top midfield corps in the Big Ten.
Minnesota also added freshmen Molly Rouse and Katie Shelander to give depth to their already-talented supply of midfielders.
While the team has put an increased emphasis on offense, the Gophers cannot lose their defensive ability if they hope to compete in the Big Ten. Minnesota returns a number of veterans on defense and will debut some talented fresh faces as well.
2006 All-Big Ten Freshman Team selection Lyndsey Mueller and senior captain Hailey McCarthy will anchor the defense again this year. Mueller was extremely impressive in her first collegiate season and McCarthy will serve as a steadying influence on the defensive end.
"Hailey McCarthy has always been a leader for our program," Denney Wright said. "She's always been one of the hardest working players and she's an incredible defender."
Minnesota's most notable additions also appear to come on the defensive side of the ball in first-year players Jennie Clark and Kylie Kallman. Perhaps the best all-around player in this year's freshmen class, Clark was an All-State selection in Iowa last season and was named to the Iowa All-Elite Team.
After losing All-Big Ten first-team selection Molly Schnieder following the 2005 season, Minnesota debuted a pair of new goalkeepers in net a year ago. Despite their inexperience, both Lindsey Dare and Chelsey Turner showed flashes of brilliance and will battle for the starting spot this fall.
"It's good to have that competition because it's a healthy competition," Denney Wright said about the goalkeeping battle. "They both have a hunger to be the starting goalkeeper and the potential to be among the top goalkeepers in the Big Ten."
The newest addition to the Gophers' coaching staff, former Kentucky assistant Jerrod Roh, specializes in teaching goalkeepers. He coached the Wildcats' Anne Ogundele to multiple All-America accolades last season and brings with him a proven track record for developing talent in the net.
"Jerrod is going to bring with him a wealth of experience, and that is going to be extremely valuable this year," Denney Wright said.
It promises to be an exciting season on the pitch for the 2007 Minnesota Golden Gophers. The team returns nearly every key player from last season and will benefit greatly from an infusion of talented freshmen.
"I think we have the talent and depth to make a significant improvement this fall," said Denney Wright about her expectations for 2007. "It's definitely going to be an exciting season."