Two-deep Gophers set sights on reaching elite

Nick Doty

When Gophers senior co-captains Jaime O’Gara and Noelle Papenhausen take the soccer field for the 1999 season it may seem they are the surviving heroes of the second battle at Wounded Knee.
Figuratively speaking, that’s not far from the truth.
O’Gara, a midfielder from Omaha, Neb., returns to the field this year after missing all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. Papenhausen, a defender from Burnsville, is finishing up her recovery from a second ACL injury, which she suffered at spring ball in April.
But coach Sue Montagne said the senior warriors are ready to lead the 1999 Gophers into battle. A battle that she said will mean another successful season for the now-deep program, which enters its seventh season of varsity play.
“This is by far the deepest team we’ve ever had,” said Montagne, who also enters her seventh season as Gophers coach. “We’re very excited about our depth.”
Montagne said the team goals are what have become the usual expectations: a Big Ten championship and an NCAA berth. But she added that those accolades and consistently being a top 25 team aren’t satisfying anymore.
“If we’re not careful,” she said, “we’re going to sit on a plateau. We’re not happy with that.”
The Gophers have won two of the past four Big Ten titles (1995, 1997) and have participated in four-straight NCAA Tournaments, but they bowed out in the second round of the tourney each of the past two seasons.
A 3-0 season-ending loss last year to eventual final four participant Portland was both a disappointment and a confidence-builder for the program, Montagne said.
“It gives them a competitive edge, leaves them hungry and gives them the confidence that they can play with that level of a program.”
The coach emphasized at the first day of practice this year that the team must be better physically prepared than they were last year to get to the next level — being one of the nation’s elite programs.
“We’re trying to get past that second round,” Montagne said. “We need to be strong for the first 45 minutes, strong for the second 45 minutes and play at a very fast pace.”
While the Gophers women’s soccer team will look to Papenhausen and O’Gara for leadership, they will depend once again on veteran forwards Nicole Lee and Laurie Seidl for scoring.
Lee, a 5-foot-5-inch senior forward from Champlin, led the Big Ten in goals and total points last season with 17 and 43, respectively. The speedster, who thrives on finesse, was an All-Great Lakes Region and All-Big Ten first-team selection.
Seidl, a 5-6 junior from St. Charles, Ill., was the Big Ten’s second leading scorer last year with 33 points and 15 goals. Seidl, along with her teammate Lee, was an All-Big Ten first-team member.
Lee and Seidl will be joined on the starting front line this season by Liz Wagner, an incoming freshman from Lakewood, Colo. Montagne said Wagner “looks great under pressure” and that she will have an immediate impact. Wagner led Green Mountain High School to Colorado 5A state titles in 1997 and 1999, garnering game MVP honors after the 1999 championship.
At midfield, Montagne will start sophomore playmaker Samantha Meyers (Frederick, Md.), junior vocal leader Erin Holland (Montreal), senior ball-handler Amy Koehler (Maple Grove), and sophomore goal-scorer Alison Rackley. Rackley was one of the conference’s top freshmen last year, bursting onto the scene with 27 points off of nine goals and nine assists.
Defensive starters include sophomore attacker Juli Montgomery (St. Paul), sophomore speedster Sarah FitzGerald (Duluth, Minn.), incoming freshman star Meghan Jones (Littleton, Colo.), and senior goalkeeper Dana Larson (Delaware, Ohio). Sophomore sensation Julie Eibensteiner could unseat Larson at goal if the senior struggles.
In all, the Gophers return 15 letterwinners, including eight starters. Montagne said the key to her team’s luxurious depth this year lies within the ability of her eight newcomers to contribute right away. She said she is most surprised and excited about the play of recruited walk-on Keely Dinse, a forward from Saginaw, Mich.
“It’s a great team,” said Seidl. “In years past our whole team would be missing a link in a scrimmage or two. This year you push yourself individually because it’s a fight to make that traveling team roster.”
“Every season we’ve got better and create more excitement,” Lee said, adding that this is the year for the program to become an elite team.
Adding to the team’s excitement this year is the introduction of the new $2 million-plus Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on the St. Paul campus.
“We’re going to surprise some people,” Montagne said.

Notes: Minnesota scored three times Sunday in the opening 27 minutes and held off host Wisconsin-Milwaukee for a 3-2 victory in the season-opener for both teams. Lee, Seidl and Johnson scored for the Gophers.
The Gophers’ next game is at 7 p.m. Saturday against Arizona State at the brand new Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. The Big Ten season starts Sept. 17 at Illinois.
Minnesota is ranked 29th in the preseason NSCAA poll, 23rd in the Soccer Buzz magazine national poll.