With one of the most inexperienced Big Ten soccer teams, Minnesota doesn’t have much time between today’s Maroon and Gold scrimmage and the start of the regular season to gel together and solidify roles within the team.
Coach Mikki Denny Wright said that situation should help make for a game-like atmosphere at 6 p.m. today when the team holds its annual Maroon and Gold Game at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Soccer Stadium.
“We get one exhibition (game) before we start our season,” Wright said, “and in soccer you get 20 games every one of them is important as far as making the NCAA Tournament.”
Despite being one of the more improved teams in the Big Ten from a season ago, this year’s squad has no seniors and plenty of youth.
Yet the youth on this squad is talented. The Gophers were able to bring in the nation’s 13th-best recruiting class, according to Soccer Buzz Magazine, and they also return their top performer from last year, sophomore forward Lindsey Schwartz.
“Everybody will see how young we are, and probably underestimate us,” Schwartz said. “And I think we’ll come out and surprise a lot of people this year.”
Surprising people this year might be a challenge early on for the Gophers, considering they officially can begin practice today, and the first game of the season is 10 days later, Aug. 19 at Creighton.
However, Schwartz said the team was young and inexperienced last season. But Minnesota still made its first trip to the Big Ten Tournament since 2000.
Wright said that’s why it’s important for the coaching staff to create a gamelike atmosphere as much as possible for today’s scrimmage. She said doing this would let players compete against each other for roles on the team early on.
“Our players know those first few days are really important as far as challenging for playing time and establishing themselves on the team,” she said. “So we gave them some space to do that.”
This coaching approach has many young faces on the squad eager to return to the soccer field this season.
“I’m actually really excited,” redshirt freshman and forward Elena Fruci said. “I’ve been waiting all summer for this season to start, so it’s nice to actually have it be right here.”
Fruci couldn’t compete in last season’s scrimmage because she tore her left ACL before the season even began.
In all, there are nine true freshmen and three redshirt freshmen who’ll be part of today’s scrimmage.
All of them, Wright said, will be competing for playing time this season.
“When you have so many new, fresh players coming in it’s always exciting to get ’em on the field,” she said. “And all we really do is sit back and watch a lot, and evaluate.”
With such a young group of players competing for starting roles early on, Wright, along with Schwartz, said they expect high-quality soccer to be played tonight.
“I think it will be a lot of fun,” Schwartz said. “The scrimmage will be pretty intense so it should be a really good time.”