Gophers get first look at new Big Ten teams

Ben Gotz

With the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten this season, the Gophers knew they would get to face two new opponents.

Conveniently for them, they’ll be introduced to both teams in the same weekend.

“It’s awesome to have them in the Big Ten,” associate head coach Krystle Seidel said. “It just makes us better to have to play quality opponents over and over. And these two are definitely quality.”

Although they come from the East Coast, it hasn’t taken the two programs long to adjust to Big Ten soccer.

Rutgers is one of just three Big Ten programs ranked in the NCAA coaches poll at No. 16, and it appears to be on its way to its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

Only Penn State and Wisconsin are ranked higher than Rutgers in the conference, despite head coach Glenn Crooks stepping down before the season.

“I think Rutgers surprised everybody,” Seidel said. “They’ve definitely done huge things and superseded expectations from everybody.”

Maryland hasn’t had as much immediate success in the conference, but it’s still in the top half of the Big Ten standings, right behind the Gophers.

Maryland has struggled to win in the conference so far, with only three wins in its first 10 conference matches.

But the team hasn’t lost many games in the Big Ten either, with five conference ties on the season.

The Gophers haven’t played a game against either team since they faced Maryland in 2011.

The team has just three players remaining on the roster from that match, which was a 1-0 loss for the Gophers: seniors Katie Thyken, Taylor Wodnick and Becca Roberts.

“It was a close game. We were hanging there right with them,” Seidel said. “It was a fun game, but it was a very different team back then.”

Senior Olivia Schultz is familiar with Maryland because one of her former club teammates, senior Shade Pratt, is on the team.

“It’ll be cool to go against her again,” Schultz said. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen her just because she’s been out there [in Maryland].”

Minnesota has less knowledge of Rutgers at the moment, but Schultz said she expects both teams to be different than the Big Ten opponents the Gophers have known for years.

“They both came from really good conferences beforehand,” Schultz said. “I was expecting their styles to definitely be a little bit different than the Big Ten that we’re used to.”

Thyken said she is ready to get to know the two teams this weekend.

“It’s definitely exciting because they’re both two very good teams,” Thyken said. “New rivalries can start.”