Gophers’ Neary returns to soccer team ahead of goal

Adam Fink

Two days after being hit by a car while riding her bicycle, Minnesota soccer forward Kaitlin Neary told herself she would return to the game in less than a month.

On Sunday, with 11:45 remaining in the first half against Iowa, Neary substituted into the game for Allison Raino.

Monday was the four-week mark.

“I didn’t tell anyone of my goal but myself,” Neary said. “I kept hearing people say I wouldn’t be back this season, but I knew I would return.”

The Tacoma, Wash., native was hit by truck near the Bierman Athletic Complex on Sept. 15 while riding her bicycle to a team video session.

The sophomore suffered a broken collarbone and needed more than 100 stitches to close a leg wound. She was released from the hospital one day after the accident.

Neary started practicing in noncontact drills with the team last week and was cleared to play Saturday.

Gophers coach Barbara Wickstrand knows it will still take some time for Neary to return to form, but feels the team will get a boost from having her back.

“She is going to have a limited role,” Wickstrand said. “She is already starting to look like her old self.”

Neary started Minnesota’s first five games before the accident and tallied two goals and one assist.

For Neary, just getting on the field means more than adding a scoring punch.

And when Neary entered the game Sunday, she said, there weren’t any butterflies or jitters.

“It was the greatest feeling,” Neary said. “It was a tough month.”

Reserves making an impact

Depth was not supposed to be a strong area for Minnesota this season.

With a roster of only 21 healthy players, the Gophers’ plan was to rely heavily on the starters.

But in what is becoming a trend, Minnesota (5-6-2, 2-4-1 Big Ten) used many reserves Sunday against Iowa.

Marni Prall started in goal for the first time this season and has seen action in the Gophers’ last three games.

Midfielder Mary Kasper saw her first action against a Big Ten team when she entered the game against the Hawkeyes.

Defender Lisa Berg, who only played in three games last season, entered her 10th game of the season Sunday.

Andrea Neuman, a redshirt freshman, has seen her utility minutes increase off the bench.

“Too many of our starters aren’t taking advantage of their opportunity,” Wickstrand said. “The starting 11 need to play better and smarter.”

Wickstrand said the starting lineup likely will not change, but she hopes the extra competition will ignite the team.

As for goaltending, Prall played well and earned Wickstrand’s praise. However, the fourth-year coach added that Prall needs to improve her ball distribution.

The starting goaltender slot for Friday’s pivotal road game against Penn State will again be won in practice this week.