Rackley returns to lineup and gives Gophers strong presence

Jabari Ritchie

The effect of midfielder Alison Rackley’s return to Minnesota soccer’s lineup was almost immediate.

In her first game since the Gophers’ opener in August, Rackley, who missed three weeks with a high ankle sprain, took the team’s only shot and scored the only goal it would need to win 1-0 at Ohio State last Friday.

Rackley’s shot couldn’t have come at a better time for Minnesota – the team broke a three-game streak of shutout losses, started its conference schedule with a win and avoided setting a record for consecutive minutes without a goal by only 15 minutes.

Now, as they prepare to host Illinois and Iowa this weekend, the Gophers are glad to have their co-captain back on the field.

“We really need her in there,” said defender Sarah FitzGerald. “I think our midfield picked it up some the last weekend (before) she played, but when she’s in there, there’s a big difference.”

But despite her accomplishments – last season Rackley was named to the second All-Great Lakes and first All-Big Ten teams and earned Academic All-Big Ten honors for the second consecutive year – Rackley said she didn’t expect to score in her first game back.

“That was pretty exciting,” she said. “It was a big surprise … I’m a little out of shape, which is kind of expected since I didn’t do much running for three weeks.”

In her freshman season, when she started all 21 games at forward or in the midfield, Rackley had nine goals and nine assists for 27 points. While those numbers ranked Rackley third on the team in points in 1998, last season’s points leader, Laurie Seidl, had seven goals and 16 points.

Since that first year, Rackley has impacted games without scoring so frequently. In 1999 and 2000, she had a total of two goals and 12 points. However, coach Barbara Wickstrand says the impact is still felt.

“Rackley’s huge to have on the field,” Wickstrand said. “I think she’s a dominant player. She has such a presence out there and she’s a great leader.”

Forward Hailee Walsh credits Rackley with improving her teammates’ play.

“It’s not just her individual performance,” she said.

This season, Rackley might have more opportunities to make herself visible in the final statistics.

Wickstrand plans to play her at forward instead of her usual center midfield position, where freshman Tierney Palmer-Klein has filled in this season. At forward, Rackley will team up with Rachael Roth, who scored the Gophers’ first goal of the season and assisted their second of the year Friday.

If Rackley moves back to the midfield later in the year, she said she hopes to help Minnesota feed the ball to its forwards – its biggest problem this season.

“In the midfield, I feel like if my team can get me the ball I can get it to the forwards, definitely,” she said. “And up top I feel like I can hold the ball really well and continue to come up and push forward.”

The position change is likely temporary, but senior defender Allyson Brodie, who was a high school and club teammate of Rackley’s in Birmingham, Mich., expects it to be successful.

“It definitely changes the play,” said Brodie, who has been Rackley’s roommate for three years. “We have a go-to player now that she’s up at forward. We can give her the ball and she can hold it and take people on.”

 

ï With Rackley almost ready to play a full 90 minutes, the Gophers are waiting on only one player to recover.

Junior forward Jordan Bieler, who suffered a concussion three weeks ago, has practiced but could still be out this weekend.

“Jordan’s concussion is still affecting her,” Wickstrand said. “She anticipates playing maybe in a week or so, but that’s still up in the air.”

 

Jabari Ritchie covers soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]