Maddie Nielsen fights her way to become Minnesota’s starting goalkeeper

Nielsen started in three matches for the Gophers last season.

Goalkeeper Maddie Nielsen throws the ball back into play during the game against DePaul on Thursday, Aug. 30 at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.

Ellen Schmidt

Goalkeeper Maddie Nielsen throws the ball back into play during the game against DePaul on Thursday, Aug. 30 at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.

Erik Nelson

When sophomore goalkeeper Maddie Nielsen learned that she would be Minnesota’s starter for the 2018 season, she said she was ready to take on the responsibility.

Nielsen has just begun her first season starting in net for the Gophers as the team is six games into the season.

“It was a transition that I was ready for,” Nielsen said. “I was pushing hard to start last year, although I didn’t. Those few games that I got in made me want to be a starter even more. I’m not going to take for granted any of the opportunities I’ve [been] given because you never know what could happen in the future.”

Nielsen took over the starting position for Kailee Sharp, who appeared in 16 matches last season for the Gophers as a junior. Nielsen said she paid close attention to Sharp in practice.

“I had to make sure that I was always ready because she injured herself earlier on in the season,” she said. “I was able to get a game in then. Being ready and focusing in practice and games helped.”

Junior defender Nikki Albrecht said she and Nielsen motivate each other by saying words of encouragement before going onto the field.

“I say, ‘I believe in you. I trust in everything that you need to do throughout the match and I trust your judgment,'” Albrecht said. “It’s like talking to any other player on the field. We know where we need to be at the right time, but we need to communicate that so that we’re on the same memo.”

Nielsen made her Minnesota debut in a 6-1 win over Iowa State on Aug. 27, 2017, making one save. A week later, she recorded her first-career shutout in Minnesota’s 1-0 victory over Providence on Sept. 3, 2017. This season, Nielsen is 3-3 with a goals-against average of 1.12 and a .741 save percentage.

Nielsen said the toughest part about being a goalkeeper is to be mentally tough.

“One thing about being a goalkeeper is that when you make a mistake, it shows often,” she said. “Being mentally tough and being able to wipe off little mistakes and bounce back does help.”

Nielsen thought she could become a goalkeeper at the collegiate level when she played for her high school team in her hometown of Shoreline, Washington. She is her high school’s all-time leader in single-season shutouts and and fewest goals against. While playing for her high school team, Minnesota began to recruit Nielsen.

“I knew coming in that I was kind of an underdog,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect because they came for a few of my games. They didn’t know me until I let it all out in the first team practices of freshman year.”

This season, Nielsen and freshman goalkeeper Ana Aguado are working with Minnesota’s director of goalkeeping, Alli Lipsher. Lipsher is in her first season as Minnesota’s director of goalkeeping after serving as goalkeeper coach at East Carolina and Arizona.

Head coach Stefanie Golan said Lipsher focuses on Nielsen’s strengths and strives to improve them.

“[Lipsher] sets up amazing training sessions that help them grow day-to-day and grow in their confidence,” Golan said. “[Nielsen] feels good by the time she comes into the team aspect of training day-to-day.”

Nielsen has yet to make a start against a Big Ten opponent. She will make her first Big Ten start on Sept. 14 against Illinois.

Albrecht said Nielsen’s stature and confidence allow her to extend and compete to make every save.

“The range that she can get to on a save is incredible,” Albrecht said. “If I can’t extend to get a ball, I’m confident in Maddie being able to extend to each and every corner.”