Gophers avoid bumpy start, record 4-0

Minnesota is off to its best start since 2008, when it won its first 10 games.

Minnesota midfielder Katie Thyken steals the ball from Illinois State during the second half Friday night at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. The Gophers went on to beat the Redbirds 4-0.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Minnesota midfielder Katie Thyken steals the ball from Illinois State during the second half Friday night at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. The Gophers went on to beat the Redbirds 4-0.

Jace Frederick

From an outside perspective, the Gophers women’s soccer team’s nonconference season had the potential for turbulence.

Featuring 12 new players, including eight freshmen and four transfers, the team had to adjust quickly.

But the start to the season has been remarkably smooth, as Minnesota improved to 4-0 with wins over Illinois State and Iowa State this past weekend. The perfect start is the program’s best since 2008, when it started with 10 consecutive victories.

“Our confidence is up,” junior midfielder Katie Thyken said after the 4-0 victory over Illinois State on Friday. “We’re just trying to keep it in this direction, keep pushing forward and keeping every game as our next game and not focusing too far into the future.”

The Gophers jumped to a quick 1-0 lead over the Redbirds on Thyken’s header in the fourth minute off a pristine cross from redshirt sophomore defender/midfielder Taylor Stainbrook, one of her two assists for the match.

Minnesota struck again in the 23rd minute with junior midfielder Olivia Schultz’s goal for a 2-0 lead heading into the half.

The second half was all Gophers as well, as Thyken added her second goal of the match in the 47th minute and junior forward/midfielder Taylor Wodnick capped off the scoring with a goal in the 85th minute.

Minnesota’s offensive outburst was matched by a suffocating performance from its back line. Sophomore goalkeeper Kristen Knutson tallied her first career shutout as the Gophers minimized any potential threats, allowing just one shot on goal.

“Our defending was a lot more organized,” Gophers head coach Stefanie Golan said. “We were putting [Illinois State] under all sorts of pressure. They didn’t really have clean looks at the ball.”

The Gophers were in control throughout the match, outshooting the NCAA tournament team from last year, Illinois State, 15-2 and consistently generating a plethora of opportunities.

“We’re really happy that we were consistent for a full 90 [minutes], and we haven’t really had that in the past couple of years,” Thyken said. “This is a great step forward for us.”

Minnesota kept its momentum rolling with its 1-0 victory at Iowa State on Sunday for its first road win of the season.

The Gophers were unable to produce many opportunities on the attacking side. But the defense stepped up again, with Knutson and freshman goalie Tarah Hobbs combining for the team’s second consecutive shutout.

Minnesota’s lone tally came from an own goal by Iowa State’s junior midfielder/defender Alyssa Williamson in the 24th minute.

The Cyclones were further hampered just more than halfway through the game when their freshman defender Kourtney Camy received a red card, forcing her team to play a woman down.

Through four matches, the Gophers have outscored their opponents 11-2.

Minnesota next takes the field Friday when it hosts Louisiana State to kick off the Minnesota Gold Classic.