Gophers open Big Ten play

Minnesota’s defense has allowed less than a goal per game this season.

Jace Frederick

An old adage in sports is “defense wins championships.”

If the saying holds true, the Gophers (7-1) are in pretty good shape as they start conference play Saturday in Indiana.

Minnesota’s back line looked dominant at times during the nonconference season and seeks to build on that success in the Big Ten.

The Gophers’ defense allowed less than a goal per game and has propelled Minnesota’s hot start eight games into the season.

“It’s our defense making the big stops in the red zone, and they came up huge over and over again,” senior forward Steph Brandt said. “I think if they keep that going, we’ll be in a really good spot.”

Minnesota’s defense is littered with veterans, and seniors MacKenzie Misel and Lauren Bauer and junior Becca Roberts serve as the unit’s anchors. The three have played in all eight games thus far.

But the defense consists of a healthy mix of experience and youth.

Sophomore Elle Dykema and freshman Rashida Beal have provided sparks to the seasoned core at times early this year.

And the back line has earned the trust of the attacking unit.

While Brandt said the entire team constantly works on its defensive skills, the Gophers’ defenders are allowing the goal scorers to focus on putting the ball in the net.

Minnesota has outshot its opponents 116-58 in the past eight games.

“When the defense [is] jumping, getting that jump on their forwards … it really helps … because then we don’t have to hustle all the way back,” junior midfielder Katie Thyken said Aug. 30. “We can just stay forward.”

The Gophers have kept a high defending line early this season, baiting opponents into 17 offsides calls over their last four games.

“That’s what we do,” Gophers head coach Stefanie Golan said Sept. 6. “That is really how we play.”

If the Gophers can continue to execute and suffocate opposing attackers, they could be a real threat in the Big Ten — an even bigger threat than some expected at the start of the year.

Minnesota was ranked seventh in the conference’s preseason coaches’ poll.

“We weren’t at all satisfied with that,” Brandt said. “We would love to finish at least top-four again.

“I think we see ourselves very capable of finishing [on] top, winning the conference.”