When Minnesota women’s soccer coach Barbara Wickstrand was told to meet with two athletics administrators Monday morning, she had a gut feeling her four-year tenure as coach had ended.
Following the meeting with Athletics Director Joel Maturi and Associate Athletics Director Regina Sullivan, Wickstrand’s hunch was confirmed.
Maturi told the Virginia native her contract would not be renewed when it expired Jan. 31. Wickstrand was informed one day after Minnesota’s season ended with a 2-1 win at Iowa State.
“It didn’t catch me off guard,” said Wickstrand, who compiled a 26-43-4 record at Minnesota. “I love this team. But we had our issues.
“I think it takes five years to turn around a program. I think one more year would have shown results.”
10 years of coaching
After four years as a head coach and six as an assistant, Wickstrand said she will not pursue another coaching job.
“I am done,” said Wickstrand, only the second coach in the team’s 11-year history.
Wickstrand joined the team as an assistant in 1994 under coach Sue (Montagne) Patberg. When Patberg left, Wickstrand become coach in January 2000.
Over the last four years there have been player complaints on issues including practices that were too hard and not enough scoring in games.
Last November, a Daily article citing player disagreements and negative attitudes was published. Wickstrand was quoted in the article saying the transition from assistant to head coach was not as smooth as she would have liked.
In her four years at the helm, 17 players left the team. Of the 17, seven signed national letters of intent under Wickstrand and left the Gophers before using up their eligibility.
In addition, the Gophers only managed to make the eight-team Big Ten tournament once in Wickstrand’s four years.
Last January, Maturi decided to give Wickstrand, a former collegiate goaltender, a one-year contract extension.
But in the end, an extra season did not make a difference. Wickstrand, who said she will still be in her office on a regular basis, plans to search for a sports administration position.
She hopes to stay in the Twin Cities and plans on being a Gophers soccer season ticket-holder next season.
Decision made last week
When evaluating a coach’s performance, Maturi said he looks at wins and losses, the athletes’ experience, community involvement, compliance with rules and academics of players.
When Maturi looked at Wickstrand’s turbulent tenure on and off the field, he felt the team needed a change.
“The program was not at the level (Wickstrand) or I wanted it at,” Maturi said. “Looking back at it, she probably wasn’t ready to be a head coach when she was hired and she initially dug herself a hole.
“I don’t know if she really ever got out of it.”
In seeking advice, Maturi talked to players, administrators and the team’s biggest booster, Deborah Olson.
Maturi said he made the decision last week and wanted to announce it following the conclusion of the season so a new coach could be in place quickly.
“She is a wonderful person,” Maturi said. “I know I am dealing with her livelihood. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t make a change.”
Entering 2003, the Gophers had high hopes. The team set a goal of six Big Ten wins and a return to the conference tournament, which starts today in Madison.
But Minnesota only managed two Big Ten wins, albeit one more than last season.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” goaltender Karli Kopietz said. “No one likes to lose. As a program, we need to get back on track.”
The next month
Assistants Ellen Obleman and Chris Higgins have been on the staff for the last two years. Both will stick around to aid in the transition period, at least until another coach is named.
Obleman said she will not apply for the head coaching vacancy.
“We want to try and keep things flowing,” Obleman said. “I want to stay here. But a new coach will probably want to bring in their own staff.”
Obleman has already been in contact with a number of recruits to inform them of the situation. Since the soccer signing period is not until February, none of the players who verbally commit to the program are obligated to attend Minnesota.
“We hope recruits chose Minnesota on the school and the program,” Obleman said. “We still want them to come here.”
Maturi said he hopes to have a coach in place within the next month. But he said he wants to make the right decision.
“I truly expect this to be the last soccer coach I hire at Minnesota,” Maturi said.
The future of the Gophers is positive. The team only loses two seniors – Anna Nudell Lee and captain Amanda McMahon. Minnesota also managed its highest scoring output in Wickstrand’s tenure this last season, finding the back of the net 26 times.
And as the season spiraled downward with a 1-6-1 record in the final four weeks, players and coaches alike were upbeat and positive about the future, which will now go in an entirely different direction.