Gophers start season strong ahead of Big Ten matches

Minnesota was predicted to finish 6th in the Big Ten but is currently 10th in the entire country.

Gophers midfielder Josee Stiever kicks the ball downfield at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium against South Dakota State on Friday, Nov. 12, 2015.

Joe Sulik

Gophers midfielder Josee Stiever kicks the ball downfield at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium against South Dakota State on Friday, Nov. 12, 2015.

Dominic Davis

Minnesota was projected to finish sixth in the Big Ten by coaches in the preseason poll, but the team is quickly proving they may be a force to be reckoned with.

The Gophers are currently No. 10 nationally and only suffered two
losses in their non-conference slate, one being a 4-1 loss to No. 1 Stanford.

“Our goal is always to be Big Ten champions,” senior midfielder
and captain Josee Stiever said. “We want to make it into the NCAA tournament
and we want take this program farther than we’ve ever gone before.”

Minnesota opened its season with a five-game winning streak
before suffering its first loss to No. 9-ranked Duke.

The Gophers are clicking offensively at the right time and have
scored 19 goals on the season so far.

The team’s captains, Stiever and fellow senior and forward Simone
Kolander, are contributing solidly to that count. Stiever has scored three
goals and three assists on the season while Kolander has seven goals and three

“I’m a lot more confident this year being a senior knowing the
team and knowing our style of play,” Stiever said. “It’s easier for me to
communicate with younger players and make sure that everybody is on the same

Sophomore forward April Bockin has been reliable for Minnesota as
well and has five goals and one assist through eight matches.

Defense has been just as good as the attack for Minnesota. In its
five-game winning streak, they had four consecutive shutouts and have only
allowed seven goals so far.

Assistant coach Andy Stoots said the experience of senior goalkeeper
Tarah Hobbs and central defenders Rashida Beal and Tori Burnett has been big.

Stoots said he is also impressed with freshman defender Nikki
Albrecht, the only freshman to start. The depth of the team this year has made
things easier for the starters.

“Playing games Friday then Sunday is hard on the players,” Stoots
said. “Having players come off the bench and play significant minutes gives our
starters more rest which helps them close out games.”

The next-best ranked team from the Big Ten in national standings
is Penn State, which comes in at No. 16 with a 4-2-1 record to Minnesota’s
6-2-0 mark. The Nittany Lions were picked to take the Big Ten title in the
preseason poll.

No. 19 Ohio State has a 6-2-0 record as well, and Rutgers comes
in at No. 22 in the nation.

Minnesota has impressed but will be tested early on as Penn State
and Ohio State are its opening Big Ten opponents this weekend at home, and the
team will try to prove the rankings speak for themselves rather than take them
too seriously.

 “Until we complete the
season and we end up 10th, I don’t think we will be satisfied,” associate head
coach Krystle Seidel said. We were excited to be ranked 11th last year, but we
didn’t finish there and [it] ended up being a disappointing year. Our goal to
not worry about where we are ranked or what the country thinks of us.”