ACL surgery can’t stop Gophers’ Kopietz in net

by Adam Fink

Only 10 minutes into Minnesota’s soccer game against Michigan on Sept. 29, 2002, the Gophers were in a make-or-break situation.

Gophers goaltender Karli Kopietz found herself staring down a Michigan attacker on a penalty kick.

Allow a goal and the Wolverines would take control of the game. Stop the shot and Minnesota would gain momentum.

Kopietz made the save, and the Gophers went on to a 4-0 victory for their sole Big Ten win last season. But Kopietz remembers the game – and that save – for more than just the defining moment of her career.

Later in the game, Kopietz tore her right anterior cruciate ligament for the second time, requiring surgery following the season.

Just over nine months removed from surgery, Kopietz is returning to form.

And with the Gophers’ offense struggling heading into Friday’s game versus Northwestern, Kopietz’s goaltending is critical for the team’s success. In addition, Kopietz has established herself as the team’s backbone.

“I think goalies are in a position that needs to lead,” the sophomore said. “I think the team looks to me to be a leader and direct them.”

More importantly, however, is that Kopietz feels almost 100 percent recovered from knee surgery.

Although her saves percentage is down (.770 from .830) and her goals allowed per game is up (1.65 from 1.23), Kopietz has been stable.

And in Big Ten competition, Kopietz has allowed only eight goals on 36 shots for Minnesota (4-1, 1-3).

“I know I am fine, but it is still in the back of my mind,” Kopietz said. “I still have a little doubt.”

Kopietz had surgery Dec. 27 and missed the team’s spring practices, scrimmages and workouts.

The Champlin, Minn., native was cleared to play Aug. 11 and opened practice with the rest of the team two days later.

Almost two months since returning to the practice field, Kopietz is once again impressing her teammates and coaches.

“She seems confident on the field,” captain Amanda McMahon said. “We all know she is going to get to the ball.”

As one of the most athletic players on the team, Kopietz’s aggressiveness is drawing praise.

“Her ability to come off of her line and grab hold of crosses and keep them has a big part of our success,” Gophers assistant coach Ellen Obleman said. “It gives the team more confidence when she makers her presence felt.”

Not bad for someone who didn’t start playing the game until eighth grade when she was a forward for two games before switching to goaltender.

Since choosing to attend Minnesota over Michigan, Northwestern and Syracuse, Kopietz has met with Gophers coach Barbara Wickstrand – a former collegiate goalie – before practice at least one per week to work on different aspects of soccer.

Right now, the only personal goal Kopietz has set this season is to return to being the player she was at the end of last season.

And with the Gopher’ team goal of six Big Ten wins in question after a slow conference start, Kopietz’s return has become even more crucial.

“This year has the potential to be something great,” Kopietz said. “We are prepared and know what we have to do.”