Soccer star Uhl rewrites records at U

Sophomore Taylor Uhl has 26 of the Gophers’ 59 points this season.

Minnesota forward Taylor Uhl leads the Gophers with 26 points through eleven games.

Anthony Kwan, Daily File Photo

Minnesota forward Taylor Uhl leads the Gophers with 26 points through eleven games.

by Betsy Helfand

Katie Thyken’s recollections of coming home last year to her roommate watching reality TV shows like “Jersey Shore” and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” while eating popcorn aren’t that uncommon among college students.

Thyken’s roommate, Gophers soccer star Taylor Uhl, sets herself apart in another way: As a freshman, Uhl led Minnesota with 15 goals and 34 points en route to being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

Those numbers might not mean much to the casual observer, but to put them in perspective, Shari Eckstrom, who was a senior last year, had the second-highest total in points (13) and goals (4).

Uhl’s not one for a sophomore slump, either. She’s leading the Big Ten with 11 goals and 26 points through eight games.

Dating back to last season, Uhl set a Gophers record with nine-straight games with a goal. She scored a goal in the first five games of this year.

She already has four hat tricks in her Minnesota career, a school record, two of which have come this season.

Uhl credited her quick start to getting healthy again. She injured her back last year, and she said putting in a lot of work rehabbing it has paid off.

But being healthy doesn’t mean instant success.

Uhl’s teammate from age 8, Thyken credits her “can’t lose” attitude as a motivating factor.

“She can’t handle losing. … She’s always a super big competitor … and I think that’s one of her biggest drives,” Thyken said. “She doesn’t have the gene that lets her be able to lose.”

Those aren’t the only reasons Uhl has been successful. Just by watching her play, it’s evident she has natural scoring talent.

“There are people who are just born to score goals and do it very well and do it very well consistently. I think for her, she understands that that’s who she is,” head coach Stefanie Golan said. “There’s a lot of players who do a lot of dirty work behind her to put her in those positions, and she does well when she’s in those positions.”

Uhl has been awarded with the personal accolades that come with being a prolific scorer.

Among the honors, she was the 2010 Minnesota Ms. Soccer, a Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year, a 2010 ESPN Rise All-American and most recently, Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

Those honors are important to her because they “show that all your hard work paid off.”

But Golan said Uhl values the team’s success too.

“I don’t think that there’s a selfish bone in her body,” Golan said.

“If you watch, anytime she scores a goal that’s set up by somebody else, the first thing that she’s doing is giving them props for that goal.”

Early years and transition

Uhl’s soccer career began in first grade, but it didn’t really take off until high school.

“I pretty much played every sport there was when I was little,” she said. “It was definitely like my parents signed me up.”

In addition to soccer, Uhl played basketball and lacrosse in high school. She also was invited to join the Olympic Development Program for soccer, which she called an “outlet to the national team.”

Through the program, she competed on two international trips, one to Portugal and Spain and the other to Holland and Belgium.

“The passion over there is just on another level than it is here,” Uhl said. “That was right when I was [being] recruited, so that kind of solidified that soccer was the sport that I loved to play.”

One of the functions of the Olympic Development Program is to help athletes get recruited.

Aside from the Gophers, Uhl looked at Iowa State, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Stanford.

“My first visit was to Minnesota, and then I … kind of compared everything back to my first visit here, and nothing really measured up,” Uhl said. “I really liked the coaches here; it’s super close to home, and the academics were great too,” Uhl said.

Uhl is a biomedical engineering major. She said she’s always been good at math and science and has an interest in medicine.

Although Uhl and Thyken made individual decisions to commit to Minnesota, Uhl said it was a positive that she and Thyken played well together previously.

In fact, the two succeeded together in high school at Eden Prairie. Their team lost in the state championship their sophomore year, but they left Eden Prairie as state champions.

The Eagles defeated the Wayzata Trojans 3-0 in 2010; Uhl had a hat trick.

Thyken said having Uhl around and knowing her so well was helpful in her transition to college soccer.

“It definitely helps knowing what your teammate wants. … You can definitely think a lot quicker when you know the person,” Thyken said. “We know how each other plays and we know what each other likes.”

This summer, Uhl and her teammates watched as the coach who recruited them, Mikki Denney Wright, resigned from the program to spend more time with her family.

Uhl called it a “huge shock” but said the transition to a new coach has been going well.

“I liked how Mikki’s style was, and I think Coach Golan has just built off that and used what Mikki has taught us,” Uhl said.

Golan said that coming in, she knew for certain that Uhl scores a lot of goals. But she didn’t know how she would fit in with the new system.

“She’s been absolutely open to everything,” Golan said.

She knew Uhl was “lethal,” but she didn’t expect the star forward to score this many goals this quickly. “But we’ll take it for sure,” she added.

Golan called Uhl “mellow and low-key.”

“She picks and chooses her moments, and you know she’s around,” Golan said. “She’s not one of the more vocal ones that you hear a lot, but she’ll hear something that she can play off of, and she’ll chime in, and you’re like, ‘Where did that come from?’”

As good as she is, Uhl has work to do.

“She’s a kid who knows she can continue to grow, and she wants to do that,”Golan said. “By no means does she think she’s arrived.”

Uhl said she aspires to make the U.S. national team after college.

“I think if I stay healthy and keep working hard, it’s in the realm of possibility,” she said.