Hussey shines in new role as U’s top scorer

Aaron Kirscht

Some people play soccer for the strategy, some for the camaraderie. Others play because they like to make their opponents kiss the turf.
But Erin Hussey, senior midfielder for the Gophers, just plays for fun.
And this year, she’s having some serious fun.
“I just love going out there every day and playing,” Hussey said.
It shows. Hussey’s nine goals and 24 points are tops in the Big Ten this season. She has already bettered her career highs from 1995.
In 23 games last year, Hussey scored eight goals and six assists for a total of 22 points. This season’s sparkling stats have come after only 13 games.
Hussey spent most of last season shuffling between several positions. She says playing one position — forward — consistently is a big reason for her success.
“It’s given me time to adjust to the position,” Hussey said. “I’ve gotten used to the defense getting me the ball … and knowing what I have to do.”
By the Gophers’ typically high standards, soccer balls have been seen in the back of the net about as often as Macarena lines in retirement homes. But don’t tell that to the rest of the Big Ten.
Minnesota leads the conference in scoring, with three Gophers — Hussey, Jennifer McElmury and Nicole Lee — in the top five.
Unfortunately, more of those points haven’t come against Wisconsin (4-0 in Big Ten play) or Penn State (3-1), who sit comfortably atop the conference standings. Minnesota is in third place with only two conference games left to play, this weekend against Indiana and Ohio State.
But after wins against Michigan State and Michigan last weekend, Hussey says the Gophers have turned the corner and may be playing their best soccer of the season.
“I’m really proud of how we played,” Hussey said. “We played with a lot of intensity and confidence. I haven’t seen us play that way all year.
“It’s been tough this season with the injuries to Jaime (O’Gara, stress fracture), Noelle (Papenhausen, knee) and Wally (Jennifer Walek, knee), so it’s really great if we can still go out and play well.”
Hussey certainly played well in the first game of the season against Valparaiso when she scored four times, assisting twice. Hussey scored again two days later in a 3-1 win against Butler, and was rewarded with Big Ten Player of the Week honors for her efforts.
Then came a six-game stretch where Hussey failed to score a goal. Normally, that’s the time for a coach to step in with a few encouraging words to help a player regain her focus. But not with Hussey.
“I’m kind of a ‘to-myself’ person,” Hussey said. “I like to get myself ready, and not rely on others to get me motivated.”
“I went through a little lull after starting out strong,” Hussey said, “but the whole team was in a lull. Now I think the team and myself are really coming together.”
Indeed. Hussey has scored in four of the last five games, including three game-winners. Her 24 points so far this season bring her career total to 78 — just one point out of third place all-time, behind Walek, McElmury and 1995 senior Gretchen Brandt.
Hussey’s idea of a perfect game is just what you’d expect from an experienced team leader/role player: Strong on fundamentals, short on ego.
“I’d do everything that forwards need to do: give it 100 percent, play the ball well, shoot really well and create chances for everybody on the field,” Hussey said. “And obviously put my shots in the back of the net.”
So far, the numbers show that Hussey’s been playing just that kind of game. And if the Gophers hope to improve on last year’s first-round loss in the NCAA’s, she’ll have to do more of the same.