Freshman class plays pivotal role for Minnesota

Freshmen have accounted for one-third of the team’s goals this year.

Minnesota midfielder Josee Stiever steals the ball from Louisiana State at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. Gophers won 2-1 against the LSU Tigers on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota midfielder Josee Stiever steals the ball from Louisiana State at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. Gophers won 2-1 against the LSU Tigers on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013.

Jace Frederick

Sometimes freshmen need time to adjust to the speed and intensity of college sports.

But as the Gophers have proven early this season, sometimes they don’t.

Minnesota’s diaper dandies have produced at a high rate through the Gophers’ first six games this year, scoring one-third of the team’s total goals.

“They knew there were so many of them that they had to step up, and they really have,” junior midfielder Katie Thyken said of the team’s 12 newcomers after the Gophers’ 4-0 victory over Illinois State on Aug. 30.

More importantly, in the first six games of the season, all victories, the production from the first-year players has come at opportune times.

Freshman forward Ashley Pafko scored the game-winning goal in the 81st minute of the Gophers’ 2-1 victory on Friday over Louisiana State.

Two days later, freshman midfielder Josee Stiever connected on a game-winner in traffic in extra time to secure the Gophers’ 2-1 win over Ole Miss.

“A freshman who shows the composure in a scramble in the box like that and buries it, [that’s] big-time,” Gophers head coach Stefanie Golan said Sunday of Stiever.

But the Gophers’ freshmen aren’t just putting the ball in the net — they’re also protecting their own.

Freshman goalie Tarah Hobbs started the team’s last two games over the weekend, allowing two goals and saving six shots. The keeper was unflappable in clutch situations.

“I feel like we put the pressure on ourselves, since we’re all so young,” Hobbs said. “Everyone on the team definitely trusts in the freshmen.”

Hobbs has gotten help from a suffocating back line that’s held opponents to about six shots per game this season. Freshman defender Rashida Beal has been a contributor to an otherwise experienced defense, playing in five of the team’s six games and providing a spark off of the bench for the team.

Yet amid the early season success, the Gophers will have to prove they’re the best freshmen on the field Friday against the ninth-ranked Florida
Gators.

Florida freshman forward Savannah Jordan and freshman midfielder Pamela BegiÄáare two of the team’s top three scorers.

Jordan has accounted for six of the team’s 15 goals, while BegiÄáhas netted two goals and added three assists.

The Gophers’ youngsters will need to match the Gators’ dynamic duo to keep their record unblemished this weekend.

“It’s going to be very nerve-wracking but very exciting at the same time,” Hobbs said. “I think we’ll be able to do very well on Friday.”

If the first six games of the season are any indication, it’s a challenge for which they’ll be ready.