Gophers more offensive in Big Ten play

The team is scoring more goals per game in conference play this season.

Ben Gotz

The Gophers wanted to increase their offense this season, and now that goal has turned into many more balls finding their way into opposing nets.

After scoring five goals over the weekend, the Gophers have surpassed their scoring total from all of last season.

“Our attacking players are playing with a lot of confidence,” head coach Stefanie Golan said. “That’s where we’ve done a great job this year. … We consistently create a number of opportunities.”

The team’s increase in scoring is most noticeable in conference play — the team scored only nine times in 12 conference games last season.

This year, the team has already scored 11 goals in just nine games. The Gophers are tied for third in the Big Ten in goals, after ranking 11th last season.

Many factors have played into the success of the Gophers’ offense, and experience is a major one.

Last year, forward Simone Kolander and midfielder Josee Stiever were freshmen adjusting to the college game.

Taylor Stainbrook, who had a two-goal game over the weekend against Nebraska, was adjusting to playing on the attacking side regularly.

Now, all three are major contributors to the Gophers’ attack alongside seniors Olivia Schultz, Taylor Wodnick and Katie Thyken.

“Since we’ve all been playing with each other for at least a year now, all of the forwards and midfielders have clicked a lot better than we did last year,” Thyken said. “We have a lot more leadership and seniority up front.”

Their extra experience and chemistry has helped the Gophers be more consistent and score almost every game.

Kolander said the players have a better feel for finding each other on the pitch with passes that lead to scoring opportunities.

Chemistry and experience are not the only ingredients to the Gophers’ offensive success. Freshmen Rachel McCloskey and Sydney Squires have contributed as well.

Hard work is a factor, too.

The Gophers have worked on finishing in front of the net during training, and Thyken said it’s rewarding to see that work pay off.

“It helps a lot to know that stuff that you’re doing in practice actually translates to the game, especially with something as big as getting a goal,” Thyken said. “We’ve all been seeing that stuff is getting on frame a lot more, which gives us more opportunities to actually get that goal.”

Golan said she wants the attack to “earn” something every time the team gets close to the opposing goal, whether that’s a shot or a corner kick.

And Minnesota’s gritty style of play has helped it to keep up with Golan’s expectations, as the team is first in the Big Ten in corner kicks.

The Gophers have also given themselves more opportunities recently by being less selective with their shots and simply trying to push the ball toward the net more.

“I think this weekend we took half-chances and took shots that were there and created a lot of opportunities,” Kolander said. “If you don’t shoot, you’re not going to score. I think by taking more opportunities, we were able to finish a lot more.”

The increase in offense has led to an increase in winning for the Gophers in conference play, as they already have more conference victories than last year.

“We have more bite. We have more urgency,” Golan said. “Our players, they have a lot of confidence in the fact that we are going to create opportunities. And that we know some of those are going to fall.”