Freshmen are bright spot in Gophers’ ongoing skid

Bob Wothe

You’d think it would be tough to stay positive after seven straight losses, but Minnesota soccer coach Mikki Denney Wright has found a way.

It’s all about the freshmen, she said.

“We’re on a four-year plan here,” said Denney Wright, who’s only in year one at the moment. “We had some unbelievable performances from freshmen this weekend, and that’s a real positive.”

It’s been one of the few silver linings for the Gophers, who have been outscored by a 17-8 margin through 11 games. Denney Wright has particularly lauded the maturity of freshman Hailey McCarthy, an all-state player out of Oregon. She has started every game at midfield for the Gophers, and although she’s yet to put anything on the board, her steady play has been a highlight.

“I just want to continue to play well and make an impact,” McCarthy said. “A lot of people are stepping up – Amelia and Allison (Kempainen) have both played really well, too.”

The Amelia in question is fellow freshman Amelia Kasten, a Rochester, Minn., native. She has appeared in every game for the Gophers and is the most productive freshman with three points this year, good for fourth best on the whole team.

Defender Kempainen is the other freshman making the biggest impact, scoring one point in the season. That might not seem like much, but as a defender put against the backdrop of a team that went scoreless for nearly six matches, her contribution is much more significant.

“I think I’ve done a good job as a one-on-one defender and at distributing the ball,” Kempainen said. “I want to keep playing good defense and have fun the rest of the season – we’ve got nothing to lose.”

Other freshmen haven’t seen nearly as much playing time as the above three but have been equally impressive in limited action.

Sara Johnson has appeared in eight games this year, starting one. A St. Paul native, Johnson walked on and has provided valuable depth on the front line.

Rosalinda Kennedy has appeared in four games this season but truly distinguished herself this weekend against Northwestern, Denney Wright said, almost bringing the Gophers within a goal of the Wildcats early in the second half.

“Rosalinda hasn’t seen much time this year,” Denney Wright said, “but she really impressed me this weekend with her aggressiveness.”

And what’s scariest about the entire freshman class? Its most-highly heralded recruits haven’t even touched the field.

Defender Megan Fightmaster has missed much of the season with an injury but hopes to return within the next two weeks, Denney Wright said.

Goalkeeper Lindsey Dare, an Apple Valley, Minn., native and National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-Midwest selection in high school, hasn’t played yet either since transfer Molly Schneider’s play has been so solid.

Considering that the Gophers are losing just two starters to graduation, all of the young talent the Gophers have showcased this year has given Denney Wright that elusive reason to be positive.

“I’m excited for next year, I’ll tell you that much,” Denney Wright said. “I’m very confident we’re headed in the right direction.”