During warmups before Minnesota’s soccer team took on Penn State on Sunday, there were nearly as many Gophers players on the bench as there were on the field.
The reason for this apparent lack of participation? No, the team wasn’t so confident it didn’t even feel the need to warm up. Rather, the team has been bitten by the injury bug.
“The lowest I saw our situation was last weekend,” coach Mikki Denney Wright said. “There was sort of a feeling that we can handle this one, and we can handle the next one. But eventually, it all adds up.”
While the Gophers regularly spoke of depth problems earlier in the season, nobody had thought it would get so bad that they’d need to take a redshirt off freshman Megan Fightmaster just to get enough players on the field last weekend.
Fightmaster, who was injured earlier in the season herself, is only one of many Gophers players who have missed time with injuries this year. The others: Allison Kempainen, Nicki Burnie and Becky Dellaria. The following are out for the season: Lisa Berg, Lindsey Dare, Jen Cressman, Tierney Palmer-Klein and Sara Johnson.
In Friday’s 4-0 loss to Ohio State, Cressman and Burnie were both forced into action despite their injuries and were the only two substitutes the Gophers played. The Buckeyes subbed eight.
Now, of course, Cressman is out for the year while Burnie was forced into more extended action Sunday despite describing herself as day-to-day.
“We’re all just trying to keep playing hard and keep our heads up with all the injuries,” Burnie said. “It’s been tough, but we’ve stuck together really well.”
Without Cressman and Palmer-Klein, two of Minnesota’s leading defenders, the team has struggled to find solutions both offensively and defensively. Forwards have been forced to move back to fill the void – senior Regina Moench has played four different positions – to the point that the team’s offensive attack has struggled as well.
“With all of the defenders we’ve lost in the back, that’s affected our ability to sub up top,” Denney Wright said. “The real question to ask is, ‘What part of the game hasn’t it affected?’ “
Answers to the injury bug have been elusive, but Denney Wright said she and the others on staff won’t stop searching for possible causes.
“We think it’s been a lot of freak injuries, but we’re not sure if it could be how we’re training or anything like that,” Denney Wright said. “But we’ll definitely be evaluating that in the offseason to see how we can prevent this from happening again.”
One factor that certainly played at least some part in the injuries has been the physicality of the Big Ten, as Kempainen certainly will attest to.
“The girls are really evil,” Kempainen said. “They’re a lot more aggressive, and they really like to beat up on you.”
As difficult as the injuries have been, Kempainen said, the team has come together because of them. Now, she said, the team is more close-knit and determined to close out the year strongly.
And as far as bouncing back from last weekend? Denney Wright said she doesn’t think it will be a problem.
“What has really impressed me is that this team is just so resilient,” Denney Wright said. “They come back and keep coming back, never whining – they just go out and play.”