Conditioning work leads Gaffney to success

The defender has started every game this season and has seven points so far.

Sophmore Maddie Gaffney kicks the ball at the Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Sept. 11 where the Gophers defeated the New Mexico Lobos 1-0. Gaffney's goal was the first of her collegiate career.

Melissa Scharf / Daily File Photo

Sophmore Maddie Gaffney kicks the ball at the Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Sept. 11 where the Gophers defeated the New Mexico Lobos 1-0. Gaffney’s goal was the first of her collegiate career.

Kaitlin Merkel

Gophers sophomore defender Maddie Gaffney has started all 12 games this season, more than she played in all of last year.
Both Gaffney and Minnesota head coach Stefanie Golan said it’s a direct result of more work on strength and conditioning during the offseason.
“[Last year] she couldn’t compete physically with the demands of this level,” Golan said. “She really committed to the training; she committed to all of the work with Dan [Warnke], our strength and conditioning coach.”
Gaffney said she played soccer at least two hours every day over the summer to improve her skills.
 
Now, halfway through the season, Gaffney is seeing her hard work pay off by starting every game and seeing a substantial number of minutes.
 
“It’s nice, especially because I’m younger, so I have more years to build, and I’ll have more experience coming in to my junior year and senior year,” Gaffney said.
 
This past weekend, Gaffney recorded two assists and a goal in No. 11 Minnesota’s sweep of Purdue and Indiana. She is also tied for third on the team in points with seven.
 
Golan said the Gophers sweep to open the Big Ten season two weeks ago was when Gaffney really shined.
 
“Penn State and Ohio State was the best weekend I’ve ever seen from her in terms of her ability to compete in two high-caliber games back to back and not miss a beat [and] not look like she was wearing down,” Golan said. “I think right now she’s playing with a lot of confidence, which is important at this time of year.”
 
Gaffney, who played forward and center-midfielder growing up, said she prefers playing defender and has played the position exclusively for the Gophers.
 
“I can defend, and I can attack facing up the field, and I really like that a lot,” Gaffney said.
 
Fellow defender and team co-captain Haley Helverson said Gaffney sets the pace for the defense.
 
“She’s very calm. I think she keeps us steady in the fact that she’s not the one that’s always going to lay the attack right away but slow the person down before,” Helverson said.
 
Golan said Gaffney’s greatest assets on the field are her individual defending and her ability to read the ball.
 
“She’s a tough player to beat, she reads the game extremely well … she arrives to her player as the ball arrives and sometimes a little bit before the ball gets there,” Golan said. “She reads that very well and makes good decisions with the ball.”
 
Helverson said Gaffney’s maturity as a sophomore also contributes to her on-field success.
 
“I know as a freshman, it’s easy to get down on yourself, but now that she’s a sophomore and a little more experienced on the field, she’s willing to be like, ‘Oh, I made a mistake, but what’s next?’ ” Helverson said.
 
As her role on the pitch grows, the Woodbury, Minn., native Gaffney said she’s grateful for the opportunity.
 
“I grew up coming to these games,” Gaffney said. “I never imagined myself actually being able to play on that field. Now that it’s here … it’s such an honor.”