Gophers open Big Ten play at Ohio State

Minnesota finished nonconference play 5-3-0 behind Taylor Uhl’s 11 goals.

Betsy Helfand

Some teams tsk at preseason rankings and brush them off completely.

Others, like the Gophers soccer team, use them as motivation.

The Gophers were ranked eighth out of 12 in a preseason Big Ten coaches’ poll in August. Eight — that’s the number they remember.

“We’re all excited to get into Big Ten and prove to all of them that we can actually play,” sophomore midfielder Katie Thyken said. “Nobody thinks we can do it, but we definitely think we can do it.”

Minnesota sits near the bottom of the Big Ten with a nonconference record of 5-3-0, but two of those three losses have come against ranked teams, including a close loss to now-No. 1 Florida State.

“While we would like to be 7-1 instead of 5-3 at the moment, all of the experiences that we’ve had are going to benefit us once we get into the Big Ten,” head coach Stefanie Golan said. “We’ve challenged ourselves, which has been good, and I think we’ve played pretty consistently well.”

Golan also said the team is excited about the way its Big Ten schedule is aligned.

“The first half of the schedule, [we play] all the teams that were picked ahead of us in the preseason poll,” she said. “So it’s kind of nice and motivation to get off on that note, especially since we feel like we’ve done well in our preparation for it.”

Sophomore forward Taylor Uhl said conference play is “the emphasis of our entire season.”

“Everything leading up to this is for this, obviously, so I think we’re ready to go,” Uhl said.

Uhl is expecting Big Ten play, which begins Sunday at Ohio State (5-2-0), to be very physical.

“It’s kind of just very nitty-gritty, and you’ve just got to be tough out there,” she said. “You’ve got to play well on Sunday because you’re going to be banged up on Friday nights, which is a little different from nonconference play.”

Thyken, who stands at 5 feet 4 inches tall, said conference play is especially physical in the midfield, where many girls in the conference are 6 feet tall.

“There are some big girls on [Ohio State]. [I’ll] get knocked around a bunch. I’m expecting to be on the ground a couple times,” Thyken said.

The Gophers will benefit from “going in fresh,” according to Uhl, after having Friday off. The team has been playing a Friday/Sunday schedule all season.

Golan said she expects Big Ten opponents to “key in” on Uhl, Minnesota’s biggest offensive threat and one of the top scorers in the nation.

Heading into this weekend, Uhl leads the NCAA in many major offensive categories, including goals scored (11) and points (26).

Golan said the focus on Uhl will “open up other opportunities for other individuals as well.”

Minnesota and Ohio State will kick off at noon, Sunday.