Soccer kicks offense into higher gear

Anthony Maggio

Off to its best start of the Barbara Wickstrand era, Minnesota’s soccer team takes to the road Friday for a matchup with Iowa State before hosting Cincinnati on Sunday.

Thanks to a rejuvenated offense, the Gophers (3ñ1) have won three straight games for the first time since October 2000 and are only two wins away from tying their win mark for all of last season.

“We have a lot more attacking style this year,” forward Rachael Roth said. “Offensively we’re a lot better than last year. More people are part of the actual attack, rather than depending on two players.”

Last season only four players tallied points all season, with just three scoring at least one goal.

But in four games this season, seven players already have tallied at least a point, while three have scored at least one goal.

The Gophers have taken 77 shots thus far on the season ñ over half of the 147 they shot in 17 games in 2001.

Wickstrand attributes the offensive punch to the way her team practices.

“Before the season even started the intensity was completely different than years past,” Wickstrand said. “The intensity is high, and these kids don’t give up. I think because of the way they practice, that’s why we’re three and one.”

Wickstrand expects the Gophers to capitalize on more of their offensive opportunities in order to win this weekend.

The Cyclones, Minnesota’s first opponent, are coming off a rocky season last year, finishing eighth in the Big 12 with a 5ñ11ñ2 record. The Gophers defeated Iowa State on Halloween last season 1ñ0, thanks to a goal from Roth in double overtime.

However, Iowa State (3ñ1) boasts its best start in school history this season with wins over Air Force, Gonzaga and Northern Iowa. The Cyclones lost their only match of the season 4-0 to Wisconsin on Sunday ñ giving Minnesota even more motivation.

“We always like to show Wisconsin up,” Gophers midfielder Kyndra Hesse said. “We’d like to beat (Iowa State) as bad or worse.”

Iowa State has seven goals and 59 shots through four games this season. In the Cyclones first four contests last season, they only managed one goal on 35 shots.

But the Gophers biggest challenge of the weekend should be Cincinnati. The Bearcats (3ñ1) are currently No. 25 in a Soccer Times poll, and were No. 25 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll before losing to Illinois on Sunday.

Last season, Cincinnati advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament and finished the year ranked 15th in the country. The Bearcats shut out Minnesota 2ñ0 in the Gophers second game of the 2001 season.

“Cincinnati will be a big game for us,” Hesse said. “If we beat them I think it could really put us on the board and we could be ranked after this weekend.”

A national ranking could be a stretch at this point of the season, but if the Gophers keep their winning streak alive, it could be in the near future.

“So far we’re having a blast,” Hesse said. “Rachael and I were looking at the schedule yesterday. Going down the list, we can win every game this season. It’s nice to be able to do that.”