Plethora of new faces playing into soccer lineup

by Anthony Maggio

A quick glance at the players sitting around Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Tuesday before practice looked more like some sort of college orientation than a soccer team preparing for a game.

Of course, 12 freshmen out of 25 players will give any team a youthful appearance. The expansive freshman class was brought in to replace last season’s six seniors and eight others who left the team.

They were also brought in to improve Minnesota’s dismal 5-12 record. The Gophers take a 2-1 record into Sunday’s match with Colorado.

“They’re all fresh and excited to play,” senior Keely Dinse said. “They want to put a lot of energy into it, and for us upperclassmen it refreshes us too because we’ve been around for awhile. It makes a whole new exciting look for the team.”

According to coach Barbara Wickstrand, after last season she told her team that this year’s squad would pose tough internal competition. She told them no one had a starting spot – or a travel spot – locked up.

“The ones who really weren’t going to have a lot of playing time quit,” Wickstrand said. “It was a good thing. They are great kids, but we didn’t lose anything that would’ve helped us.”

Of the eight non-seniors who left the team, six saw playing time last year, with three of them playing in at least 16 of the team’s 17 games.

The loss of so many players left the remaining athletes with a major adjustment to make coming into this season.

“I realized when I came to preseason it was a whole new team,” Dinse said. “You just deal with that right away. I miss playing with (the athletes who left), but we’ve got a whole new team to work with.”

According to Wickstrand, only one of the eight players was a scholarship athlete, and their playing time came because of a lack of depth. The Gophers solved this problem with the new wave of freshmen this season.

Of the 12 newcomers, nine have seen game action so far, including Kaitlin Neary, Laura Hoppe, and Karli Kopeitz, who have started all three games for 2-1 Minnesota.

“I came in hoping to make the traveling team,” Hoppe said. “I wasn’t coming in thinking I’d even get close to starting.”

The other two didn’t think they would be starters coming in, either. But one reason the three came to Minnesota was the chance to make an immediate impact on a team in need of a spark.

“You hear a lot of freshmen that go through the frustration of being used to playing all the time and then coming to college and not,” Neary said. “I didn’t want to go through that.”

Although the youngsters are getting playing time, there is still much work to do. After all, talented freshmen are still freshmen, and the current crop lacks seasoning.

“I can’t say at this point that (the freshmen) replace the talent, but there is a lot of potential,” Dinse said. “I think by the end of the year we’ll have a much improved team compared to last year.”

With such high expectations for the newcomers, some could feel overwhelmed by the immediate pressure. But Kopeitz, who might face the most pressure of all as the starting goalie, doesn’t see things that way.

“It’s pressure all around on the whole team,” Kopietz said. “We’re expecting a lot out of everybody. We know that we need to give 100 percent just like everybody else is on the field. Because once you step on the field, it’s not about being a freshman.”

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