Gopher Players Prepare for New Season, New Coach and New Systems of Play
New Gopher Women’s Soccer coach Stefanie Golan will have her hands full in these first several weeks of training. With only a month to prepare, she inherits a team from 2011 that went 9-10-2 and struggled with consistency in scoring goals. The team also had problems making mental mistakes in tight games which allowed the squad to leak goals late in matches and costing them points.
While former coach Mikki Denney Wright brought in many outstanding young freshman players, the team may have needed to depend on them too much. That youthfulness showed itself as the team had more than its fair share of ups and downs.
Denney Wright finally broke from her typical 3-5-2 and went to a traditional 4-4-2 in order to stay more organized on the back line in hopes of keeping goals out of the Minnesota net.
The 2012 Golden Gophers roster returns 6 seniors. Two of the more notable seniors, Cat Parkhill and Tamara Strahota, were both redshirted.
With established goalkeeper Lindsey Dare in front of her, goalkeeper Cat Parkhill (Apple Valley, Minn.) had to bide her time her first year as a Gopher and has been a starter ever since 2009.
Parkhill had surgery on her knee in the offseason and was taking it easy on the bench in the latter parts of Wednesday’s afternoon session. “I’m getting back into the swing of things,” said the senior. “I had training this morning and afternoon and it’s reacting really well.”
The U of M goalkeeper says she had a goal of being the best she can be but ultimately that’s to benefit the team. “I want to do the best I can and get to the next level, but in the end I want my team to do the best they can.”
Forward turned defender, Tamara Strahota (Burnsville, Minn.), who missed last season with a torn ACL, is healthy and mobile and happy to be training with her old team again.
“I was out for a year so it’s really exciting to be back playing again,” said Strahota, who is said to be the best one-vs-one defender on the team. “Coming in this year I know being a senior I’m a leader and it’s really important to know how to push yourself through all the hard work. Like two-a-days. We haven’t gone through it since last year but the freshman have never gone though it. It’s little things like helping to lead the team even if you’re tired or taxed and the hard work it takes to grind through all that.”
Strahota points out that two-a-days aren’t only for the physical aspect but the mental aspect as well. She says it’s important to be able to continue to learn while you’re exhausted, tired and hot.
“Even though you are physically tired you have to be able to mentally stay focused. The Big Ten is all about grinding through it. Being tired but still pushing hard until the end of the 90 minutes.”
Also adding experience from 3 years at the program are midfielders Olivia Bagnall (Lakeville, Minn.) and Allie Phillips (Vadnais Heights, Minn.), forward Nicole Baier (Omaha, Neb.) as well as defender Marissa Price (Apple Valley, Minn.).
Another senior who joins the team for the first time this season is goalkeeper Jackie Voigt (Cottage Grove), who came to the program as a Golden Gopher basketball player where she started 105 games in 4 years with the university.
Only 3 juniors return to the program: Midfielder/Forward Lauren Bauer (Eagan, Minn), Defender/Midfielder MacKenzie Misel (Ankeny, Iowa) and forward Steph Brandt (Rochester, Minn.).
With many important seniors graduating from the program in 2010 the talented freshman class of 2011 were often called upon often to fill gaps. Five of those freshman return as sophomores this year. They are: Midfielder Brianne Price (Apple Valley, Minn.), Midfielder/Defender Becca Roberts (Lino Lakes, Minn.), Midfielder/Defender Katie Thyken (Eden Prairie, Minn.), Forward Taylor Uhl (Eden Prairie) and Defender/Midfielder Taylor Wodnick (Plymouth, Minn.).
Most notable on that list is 2011 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Taylor Uhl, who scored 15 goals and had 2 assists. Uhl was asked about sophomore slumps and whether or not she thought other Big Ten teams may now be on to her goal-scoring skills. The 5’9″ forward says she welcomes the challenge and believes there are more positives to look forward to than negatives.
“I like the high expectations,” said Uhl with a big smile. “I think people on my team definitely read me better now. They know where I like the ball and where I’m effective. I think that’s a positive of having a good season. Your team understands what you can do and gives you the ball more because they believe in you. So I hope I’ll have more opportunities to score goals and make an impact this year.”
The team also brings 6 freshman into the program, 2 midfielders, 3 forwards and a goalkeeper. They are: Midfielder Ellie Arvesen (Pine Springs, Minn.), Forward Elle Dykema (Northfield, Minn.), Forward Mallory Getchell (Coon Rapids, Minn.), Forward Haley Helverson (West Des Moines), Goalkeeper Kristen Knutson (Eagan, Minn.) and Midfielder Allie Reinke (Stillwater, Minn.).
Noticeably missing on the roster is Mehan Bolton, who was marked as one of the top signings for the program. When Golan was asked about the Mahtomedi Zephyr graduate she said she didn’t know anything about it. “I have no idea. She wasn’t on the roster when I came here,” said Golan.
Athletic communications assistant for the team, Cory Hall, also said he was not aware of why Bolton was not on the roster and said she has been replaced by Mallory Getchell the freshman forward from Coon Rapids HS.
Making the transition
One of the obstacles the team will have this season for the sophomores, juniors, and seniors, is making the transition to a new coach. Parkhill, Strahota and Uhl all talked about that news, how it affected them and how they are currently dealing with it.
All three said they were shocked when they heard that Mikki Denney Wright was quitting the program, especially with the timing.
“I’ve been around coach Mikki since my freshman year,” said Strahota. “Coming into my 5th and senior year was really hard knowing she had quit and not having her be there. But having a new coach, new systems and new philosophies pushes us a bit outside our comfort zone. Taking that adversity and learning from it is really good for us.”
Strahota was also glad that new coach Golan kept former Gopher player and now 4th year assistant Krystle (Kallman) Seidel and believes it is helping the transition for the players.
“Having her around is really nice,” Strahota said. “I played with her my freshman year and then had her as a coach. It’s nice to have her around for my last year.”
Parkhill says she too was surprised by the news but now is ready for a new year and the new staff. “I’m really looking forward to the season,” said Parkhill, who says she likes the new coaching staff.
“It was a shock to all of us and it was very late in the game too,” said Uhl, who also said she was asked to sit on a panel of players that interviewed the final two coaching candidates.
“It was neat that we got to be involved in the interview process. I was able to go in and meet the two final candidates. That made my nerves settle a little bit. After today’s practices I’m really excited about the change.”
Uhl said that after participating in the interviews she was texting everyone on the team who wasn’t able participate to let them “know all the ins and outs of each coach.”
“I think that set everyones nerves at ease a bit,” said Uhl.
Katie Bethke, former U of M forward and midfielder, was working with the team on Wednesday. Bethke spent last winter with the Frauen Bundesliga, playing for Bayer 04 Leverkusen. While her team is in preseason training Bethke has decided to stay back in Minnesota for the fall semester and finish the classes needed to get her degree. She still plans on heading back to Germany after she finishes in December. Bethke says she wants to play until she can’t any longer and then would like to move into coaching.
Bethke was one of the most prolific attacking players in recent Gopher history, scoring 26 goals and 32 assists in 85 games played. She finished her Golden Gopher career in the fall of 2010; a year that saw the team make it all the way to the NCAA Round of Sixteen.