Fresh faces give women’s soccer new hope

by Anthony Maggio

After two straight losing seasons, Minnesota’s women’s soccer team has reloaded with youth, a new approach and a new attitude.

The Gophers 2001 campaign (5-12, 3-7 Big Ten) was their worst season since the team began varsity competition in 1993. But head coach Barbara Wickstrand expects a turnaround in 2002.

“The only place we can go is up,” Wickstrand said. “We have a lot higher expectations of them.

“And from what I see right now, we’re better than we were last year for sure.”

The most glaringly necessary improvements are in the offensive third of the field. Last season, Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten in shots (147), points (25), goals (9) and assists (7).

Now a junior, forward Rachael Roth was one of the only bright spots in the Gophers offense last season — scoring seven of the squad’s nine goals last year.

But thanks to some new faces, Roth should get some help up front.

“We have a lot of great new talent on our team that can take a lot of the pressure off of me,” Roth said. “We have a great midfield that will score a lot. I don’t feel the same pressure as I did last year.”

The most highly touted of the new faces is junior transfer Amanda McMahon.

McMahon, who will start at the center midfield position, was a first-team All-MAC selection the past two seasons at Marshall University. She also led the MAC in assists and points per game as a sophomore.

The next question mark coming into this season for Minnesota is the goalkeeper position.

The Gophers have three goaltenders fighting for the spot left vacant by two-year starter Julie Eibensteiner. However, freshman Karli Kopeitz has pleasantly surprised Wickstrand, and is the frontrunner for the job.

“I’ve been very happy with how she’s performed,” Wickstrand said. “She’s going to make some freshman errors, but so far she hasn’t. She has great instincts.”

Wickstrand even paid Kopeitz a compliment when she compared her to Eibensteiner, who finished second in the Big Ten in saves per game in 2001.

“Her range is 10 times better than Julie’s.”

Because Kopeitz is a freshman, she will battle inexperience — a battle which is commonplace among this year’s team.

The Gophers have 12 freshmen and five sophomores on their 25-player roster.

Much of Minnesota’s youth is on the defensive third of the field. Senior captain Meghan Jones is the only upperclassman starting on the defensive side.

Sophomores Tierney Palmer-Klein and Jennifer Cressman will likely start at the center back positions, while freshman Hillary Stowell is still in contention for a starting job.

But on the flipside of inexperience, the Gophers hope youth brings unlimited potential, and once again, a winning record.

“I think it’s going to be a turnaround season,” McMahon said. “We’ll probably surprise a lot of people.”

Minnesota splits tourney

The Gophers lost their first regular season game 2-0 against Washington State in the opening game of the Montana Diadora Cup in Missoula, Mont. Minnesota was out-shot 19-4 in the contest.

Minnesota bounced back in its second game on Sunday, however, out-shooting host Montana 21-4 in a 1-0 victory.

McMahon scored the only goal on a header off a free kick from Roth in the second half.

The Gophers host Southwest Missouri State on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. in their home opener.

Anthony Maggio covers soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]