Freshmen crucial in rebuilding

Emily Wickstrom

After a somewhat disappointing first season that was plagued by injuries and one-goal losses, Minnesota soccer coach Mikki Denney-Wright said she believes 2005 could be the year her program turns the corner.

That’s because this year’s Gophers will look little like the 2004 squad that finished 2-8-0 in the Big Ten.

More than half of Minnesota’s roster is composed of a 14-member freshman class that Denney-Wright calls the strongest in school history, and the new players are wasting little time making an impact.

Six freshmen are currently in the starting lineup, and eight are seeing major minutes, although Denney-Wright was unsure at first how many would be ready for the transition to Division I athletics.

“College soccer doesn’t really give you time for development,” she said. “(The freshmen) made sure they were ready to come in. This is a special group.”

Fittingly, it will be freshmen leading the way trying to reshape a Gophers offense that struggled to score last season.

Lindsey Schwartz has scored three of the team’s six total goals in regular season competition so far. In comparison, Haley Lentsch – who transferred to Fordham after last year – was the 2004 Minnesota leader with five goals.

“We’re so impressed with (Schwartz),” Denney-Wright said. “She’s a stud. We came in and didn’t know exactly where she’d play, but she’s been a tremendous attacker.”

Goalie is one of the only positions where Minnesota has veteran experience, although it is only senior Molly Schneider’s second year with the team after transferring from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“(Schneider) took our per-goal percentage down a full point last year,” Denney-Wright said. “And she’s trying to do more of the same. She’s very important to our program.”

Minnesota has fared well so far in its nonconference schedule, posting a record of 2-1-1 against major conference opponents in games all played on the road.

Although it is too early to tell how many conference games the Gophers will win, one ambition Denney-Wright has is making the Big Ten Tournament, something Minnesota has not done since 2000.

The upperclassman experience combined with youth and new talent has Minnesota’s players optimistic about the season.

“The people that have been here are gelling really well with the new people,” Schneider said. “I think we’re going to do well. It’s definitely a possibility to make NCAAs, whereas last year there wasn’t much light at the end of the tunnel.”