Wickstrand’s players impose lofty goals

Almost every Minnesota soccer player passed the fitness test before practice began Aug. 13.

Adam Fink

Minnesota soccer coach Barbara Wickstrand was blown away by the decisiveness her team showed after agreeing on its 2003 goals in only 30 minutes.

And that was before Wickstrand read the expectations.

The fourth-year coach was stunned when she came across one unusual item on the list. The line read: “Stay at the party.”

Those four words send a larger message than any expectation ever could: The Gophers are not the same turbulent group as last season.

After weathering a storm of losses, lack of focus and defection last season, the 2003 squad has found a fresh attitude through team unity, better fitness and belief in each other – and themselves.

“We have so much positive energy with this group,” Wickstrand said. “We can’t let drama or anything affect our season. Everyone wants to be here. And they are here to stay.”

Despite only winning one Big Ten game last year, the Gophers have their eyes set on six

conference wins this season – and earning a trip to the Big Ten tournament (where only the top seven teams qualify).

Noticeable changes started last spring. The team picked senior Amanda McMahon and junior Jennifer Cressman as captains. Teammates hung out with one another over the summer. In addition, Wickstrand received weekly calls from out-of-town players relating their excitement for the season.

And when practice started Aug. 13, almost every player passed the fitness test before practices started.

“We have players here who want to work hard,” McMahon said. “Every girl really cares about this team. It hasn’t always been that way.”

With Rachael Roth and her team-leading 26 conference points leaving the team, the Gophers find themselves without any superstars. But Wickstrand doesn’t view that negatively.

“Everyone can contribute from number one to 22,” said Wickstrand, who has compiled a 20-33-2 record in her tenure at Minnesota. “And they will. People are really going to shine this year. I don’t think there will be jealousy or finger-pointing.”

Another reason for optimism is a newly installed game plan that will be used regularly.

With three defenders, four midfielders and three forwards, the Gophers will be crashing the net more aggressively in hopes of generating goals. In the past, Minnesota has mostly run a 4-4-2 system under Wickstrand’s defensive mentality.

“We want to become high pressured and get the offense going,” Cressman said.

Defensively, Minnesota expects to be sound once again. Sophomore Karli Kopietz has fully recovered from a knee injury and will be the starting goaltender. Last season, Kopietz allowed 1.23 goals per game and carried a .830 saves percentage.

Although the 22-woman roster is compiled of 15 underclassmen (including 11 sophomores), Wickstrand believes the past year forced everyone to mature quickly and will benefit this year’s team.

In addition, Cressman and McMahon both recognized the leadership of the younger players.

And despite fielding a young roster, Wickstrand believes the future starts now.

“This season isn’t about our sophomore class being seniors in two years and then being good, Wickstrand said. “We have seniors. We have juniors. And we have freshmen.

“It’s about now.”