Careers nearing end for U defenders

Jim Schortemeyer

The numbers speak for themselves when it comes to the defense of the Minnesota women’s soccer team.
The Gophers have allowed 18 goals in 18 games, including only four in the last six games — two of which came off penalty kicks.
But why are they so good?
Solid goalkeeping is only part of the answer; an experienced defensive unit accounts for the rest. Starters Jamie Wyffels, Noelle Papenhausen, and Vanessa Touset are all in their fourth year at Minnesota. Only one will return next season — Papenhausen was redshirted and is eligible to play in 1999.
The trio has played together for two full seasons in the Gophers backfield and has accumulated over 200 games started for Minnesota. By now they’re so accustomed to each other that sometimes they don’t have to communicate on the field.
“Sometimes I’ll be having a bad game and Vanessa will just say my name and I’ll say, `I know, I know’,” Wyffels said.
But bad games have been few and far between for the Minnesota defenders. They’ve given up three goals only once this season, in an overtime loss to 11th-ranked Penn State.
Gophers coach Sue Montagne said she sees similar personality traits in the players, which she said can make a good defense even better.
“They have determination and they have heart,” Montagne said. “That’s what being a defender is all about. It’s grit.”
But it’s their styles that separate them as players.

The Speed
Jamie Wyffels wasn’t even recruited by Minnesota in her senior year in high school. But the all-stater from Coon Rapids came anyway for the University’s engineering program.
When Wyffels showed up for walk-on tryouts, Montagne immediately recognized Wyffels’ talent.
“She went running down the field and we said, `Okay, this is a good thing,'” Montagne said.
Wyffels’ speed probably has Gophers opponents looking forward to her graduation. Statistics often can’t describe her contributions to the team, but Wyffels has chased down her fair share of opponents.
“We laugh because there are players that get the ball and think they’re going to take Jamie,” Montagne said. “And we just start laughing at the girl, `Who do you think you are? You’re not going to get by her.'”
All that speed is a contradiction of Wyffels’ laid-back persona.
“I’m very relaxed, and take it as it comes,” Wyffels said. “I try to be the calm one out there.”
The Flash
While she might be a half-step slower than Wyffels, Touset has jaw-dropping quickness and a flare for the dramatic that Montagne said she loves to watch.
“You can really see the fire in her,” Montagne said. “She’ll win the ball, then do a 360, juke the forward, and you’ll be wondering how she just did that.”
Moves like that have been a constant in the Minnesota starting lineup since Touset’s first game. And Touset has yet to sit down, 84 games later.
Her moves and durability have earned Touset the most recognition of the three defenders. Last year Touset was named All-Big Ten, and was a second-team member of the regional team.
Make no mistake, however; this is not a one-person show. Touset has seen the defenders jell over the past two seasons.
“Our defense has just grown and matured together,” Touset said. “We know what the other’s going to do before they do it.”
The Grit
“Noelle is just grit,” Montagne said. “She’s just a little ball of dynamite. That’s Noelle. She’s pure determination.”
Papenhausen has struggled to get to this point in her Minnesota career. She’s had stress fractures in both legs, a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a hodgepodge of other ailments.
But through it all, Papenhausen has been a constant for the Gophers. Except for the year she missed due to the knee injury, Papenhausen started every game prior to this season, and has missed only two starts this year.
“I don’t like to think of it as an injury problem,” Papenhausen said. “I think it creates a bad mindset.”
But her play has been anything but bad. Although not as fast or flashy as her co-defenders, Papenhausen plays with intelligence and willpower. She knows where to be and when to be there in order to force a turnover.
Montagne’s been especially impressed with Papenhausen’s determination to play this season.
“The kid’s out there limping around and she’s still fighting.”
Good Times, Bad Times
As a sophomore, injury separated Papenhausen from the women with whom she joined the team. Now, she’s the one who will be sorry to see her teammates leave.
“It’s strange because on one hand I’m sad to see them go, but I’m excited because I get to play another year,” Papenhausen said.
Joining Touset and Wyffels in their final seasons are Kelly Shea and Corinne Bolder, both of whom have been regular starters for the Gophers. Wyffels admits the reality of this final season has begun to set in.
“It just hit us last week,” Wyffels said. “I was sitting with Noelle and Corrine and we realized how strange it will be to go.”
The Gophers will lose a group of seniors that’s won two Big Ten championships, earned three straight NCAA tournament berths and built friendships.
“(We) have our own little bond,” Touset said. “We won the first Big Ten Championship for Minnesota, and have seen the ups and downs of the program.”