Marisa Windingstad is a calming presence for Minnesota’s defense

The junior defender has started in all nine of Minnesota’s matches this season.

Defender Marisa Windingstad intercepts the ball at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 16. The Gophers defeated Northwestern 2-0.

Jack Rodgers

Defender Marisa Windingstad intercepts the ball at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 16. The Gophers defeated Northwestern 2-0.

by Erik Nelson

Before the start of each match, Minnesota players yell out two words: “Every moment.”

Defender Athena Kuehn said Marisa Windingstad is a player who’s ready for those moments.

“She’s physical on the ball,” Kuehn said. “She can run for miles. She’s great on offense, so she’s calm. It’s nice to have her distributing balls.”

Three of Minnesota’s four starting defenders from last season are not currently starters for the Gophers in 2018. That has allowed Windingstad to work her way into the starting lineup — she has started in all nine matches so far this season.

The Omaha, Nebraska native said that starting is a big achievement for a player.

“Now that I have this role, I’m trying to keep it as much as possible and continue to move forward and take care of my body throughout the week so that I’m ready for the games on the weekends,” Windingstad said.

In 2016, her freshman year, Windingstad did not appear in any matches. She made her Minnesota debut on Aug. 21, 2017, in Minnesota’s 3-0 victory over North Dakota State. Last season, she appeared in six matches.

Windingstad said former Gophers defender Maddie Gaffney was a role model for her because Gaffney was an outside right back, the position Windingstad currently plays.

“I learned a lot from watching her,” Windingstad said. “Seeing her growth over her years [made me] want to do the same for myself.”

Assistant coach Becky Fletcher said Windingstad’s confidence grows every match.

“She communicates well with the other backs and the team as a whole,” Fletcher said. “She knows how we defend. She knows how we press. She knows exactly the expectation of the grittiness and toughness it takes to be in the back.”

This season, Windingstad has played 821 minutes. She has never scored a goal in her career nor has she recorded an assist.

Goalkeeper Maddie Nielsen said Windingstad’s game makes her more confident in Minnesota’s defensive unit.

“I trust that she’ll play me a ball back well and she’ll be able to defend that cross before it ever comes in,” Nielsen said. “Being able to see her make huge plays has not only brought up my confidence in her, but the rest of the team’s confidence in her as well.”

When Minnesota’s defense is under threat, Windingstad uses her speed and agility to clear out quality scoring chances or tackle opposing players, which keeps an opponent’s offense at bay. 

Windingstad said that the night before every match, she writes notes about each team that she is about to face and prepares for any obstacle that her team may face the next day. 

“I go in positive and feel good, ready to crush every moment,” she said.

Kuehn said Windingstad is a calming presence on Minnesota’s back line.

“Defense is calm and then it’s frantic,” Kuehn said. “It’s constantly being able to listen and give out information. She’ll be telling me tons of information about who’s on my backside. In the moment, she’s giving me good information.”