Sophomore Kolander develops into scoring threat

Simone Kolander has scored more goals as a sophomore than she did last year.

Gophers forward Simone Kolander dribbles the ball in front of Marquettes goal Friday evening at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.

Zach Bielinski

Gophers forward Simone Kolander dribbles the ball in front of Marquette’s goal Friday evening at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.

Ben Gotz

Last year, head soccer coach Stefanie Golan told then-freshman Simone Kolander she had one mission for her sophomore season: score more goals.

Four games into the season, Golan seems pleased with the sophomore’s progress.

“She has a lot more confidence,” Golan said, “and she is starting to embrace the fact that we want her to be a forward and we want her to be a goal scorer.”

Kolander scored two goals during her freshman year but led the team in assists with five. However, she admitted she wasn’t fully comfortable yet and knew there was room to improve in 2014.

“Last year, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Kolander said after the team’s exhibition game last month. “I think I took a more supporting role last year.”

But Kolander said she knew she would have to better herself in her sophomore year to help improve a Minnesota attack that finished the 2013 season scoring just 1.29 goals per game, even if it wasn’t necessarily in her nature.

“I’m really unselfish. I really love to assist and play the ball,” Kolander said. “But we didn’t score a lot of goals last year. I knew coming into this season I would have to step up.”

Something that helped fuel Kolander’s development was time spent training with the Colorado Pride women’s soccer team, a part of the United Soccer League’s W-League, the longest-standing women’s soccer league in North America.

While Kolander was unable to crack the top group on the Pride and didn’t compete with them, Golan said she still learned some valuable lessons out West off the pitch.

“For her to see how those kids go about their business is outstanding,” Golan said. “She’s holding herself to a higher standard, which is great.”

Kolander’s coaches saw her improvement right away when they started training, and associate head coach Krystle Seidel mentioned her before the season as a player who could step up.

“I think that experience has helped her grow,” Seidel said before the season.

The results are continually evident, as Kolander currently appears on several of the Big Ten leaderboards early in the season. She’s tied for sixth in goals, third in points and tied for first in assists in the conference.

Kolander has already topped her stats for last year in terms of both goals and points, and her coach said opposing teams will start focusing in on her as a result.

“As she drives, things are going to open up,” Golan said. “And opponents will start targeting her, which will open some things up for other players.”

Which means, ironically, Kolander can stay unselfish in her new role, even though it puts her in the spotlight. And it’s a role the team sorely needs.

“We talked about it at the end of the spring: We need a goal scorer,” Golan said. “She’s been great at that.”