In her final season, Emily Heslin continues to lead Minnesota’s midfield

Heslin has started in all 11 matches this season.

Erik Nelson

Midfielders are responsible for both leading the offensive attack and defending, but midfielder Emily Heslin prioritizes defense in her style of play.

Heslin has recorded only one point this season. She assisted on April Bockin’s second goal of the match in Minnesota’s 4-0 win over North Dakota State on Sept. 7.

Heslin said she watched older Minnesota midfielders and learned how to play the position from them.

“I was lucky to get minutes my freshman year to try and gain that understanding by doing it and building off of that every year since,” Heslin said. “I’ve embraced the role for what it is and being that anchor defensively doing whatever the team needs me to do.”

Heslin is best friends with midfielder Molly Fiedler, whom she met during her freshman year of high school. Both played on the club team Minnesota Thunder Academy before joining the Gophers in 2015.

Fiedler said Heslin is a strong leader in the locker room. Heslin is co-captain this season along with fellow senior Emily Peterson.

“Any time she says something, it carries a lot of weight whether its encouraging or needing more out of people,” Fiedler said. “On the field, she leads by example. She is the epitome of Gopher soccer.”

Heslin said the Gophers have always prided themselves on defense, even when the offense can’t score many goals.

“This year’s no different in that we take it seriously,” Heslin said. “I don’t think it’s that we’re not creating the chances [on offense]. As long as we keep our defense strong and keep creating opportunities, eventually the goals will come.”

Minnesota averaged 2.16 goals per match during the 2017 season. So far in 2018, Minnesota has averaged 1.18 goals per match. Minnesota’s defense has allowed only 0.82 goals per match, compared to 0.89 goals per match last season.

Head coach Stefanie Golan said Heslin embodies the team’s spirit.

“She’s one of the first ones out all the time [in practice],” Golan said. “She will put in an unreal amount of work day-to-day. Even when you go through simple, mundane technical training, she does it at game speed without you having to say anything to her.”

Heslin said Fiedler is not only her best friend, but someone who has made her a better player.

“She helps to hold me accountable and show me moments where I don’t necessarily see something,” Heslin said. “She will give me opportunities to fix a problem and give me those solutions that I might need.”

Heslin has scored five goals in her career, three of which came last season. Perhaps the most important goal of her career came in the 2016 Big Ten Championship game on Nov. 6, 2016. Heslin scored the game-winning goal in Minnesota’s 2-1 victory over Rutgers, clinching Minnesota’s first Big Ten title in 21 years.

Golan said Heslin is someone that other players can learn from.

“Everybody can look to [Heslin] to see how it should be done,” Golan said. “You can never look at her and say she’s not doing what she’s supposed to do. She does it and then some.”