Hobbs helps save season in first year

Tarah Hobbs is only a freshman but is already a valuable player.

Minnesota goalkeeper Tarah Hobbs sets up for a kick against Louisiana State on Friday, Sept. 6 at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota goalkeeper Tarah Hobbs sets up for a kick against Louisiana State on Friday, Sept. 6 at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.

Jace Frederick

There aren’t enough superlatives in the dictionary to describe Tarah Hobbs’ performance in the net for the Gophers through five Big Ten matches.

So, maybe the numbers can do the talking.

Hobbs ranks top five in the Big Ten in every major goalkeeper statistic. She leads the conference in save percentage (.873) and saves per game (5.50).

And she’s only a freshman.

“She honestly saves our butt day in and day out,” senior defender Lauren Bauer said Oct. 1. “She’s played incredible. I love her.”

Hobbs especially felt the love Sunday in the Gophers’ 1-0 win over then-No. 7 Penn State.

She made seven saves in net, including multiple diving stops to rob the defending national runner-up of the potential tying score, as Penn State relentlessly sent chance after chance on goal.

No keeper had been able to tame the Nittany Lions in a Big Ten regular season match over their last 25 games.

Last Sunday, Hobbs did.

“You look over at [Penn State’s] coaching staff, and they’re amazed at some of [Hobbs’] saves,” Gophers head coach Stefanie Golan said after the game on Sunday.

It’s one thing to put together one remarkable performance. It’s another to do it every time on the pitch.

Hobbs represents the latter.

She delivered a similar show, featuring two full-extension, improbable saves in the Gophers’ 1-0 win in Ann Arbor, Mich., over the then-No. 13 Wolverines — just a week before her prominent Penn State performance.

Michigan attempted a free kick in the first half of that game — a hard line drive that seemed destined for the back of the net. Bauer said she thought it was a “for sure” goal.

Not with Hobbs in the net.

She flew out from behind the screen of the Gophers’ wall to deflect the ball away.

“It was nuts,” Bauer said. “I’ve never seen anything like that happen. She came out of nowhere.”

That type of excellence in goal has reached a point where coaches and teammates expect it.

“It’s just another day for us,” Golan said of the keeper’s performance against Penn State.

Hobbs is beginning to receive conference-wide attention because of her play. She was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week on Monday, an accolade that comes after her third consecutive shutout Sunday.

The freshman keeper said she was “super nervous” after her first collegiate action in net in Minnesota’s 1-0 win over Iowa State on Sept. 1.

Oh, how things can change in a month.

“From the first game to now, I feel way more confident and just more relaxed,” Hobbs said Oct. 1.

And her ever-increasing confidence is spreading throughout the roster. It’s tough to lose when your opponent can’t score.

“When you have [a keeper like Hobbs], it gives the team the confidence … to be able to withstand some of those storms that we’re going to face at different points,” Golan said.

Minnesota’s offense has struggled to score in its Big Ten schedule. The Gophers have netted just two goals in their five conference matches.

Still, Minnesota has only lost twice in that stretch, a further testament to Hobbs’ play in the net.

“She’s definitely kept us in a lot of close games,” junior midfielder Olivia Schultz said.

As the regular season nears its close, Hobbs’ performance in net will only escalate in importance. It’s something for which she’s ready.

“As the season progresses, you kind of have to rise up to each game,” she said. “For the bigger games, you just have to keep bringing something extra.”

That “extra” she’s shown in the last few weeks looks nearly unbeatable.