First wave closing in on shores of Big Ten elite

Matt Anderson

At halftime of Minnesota’s soccer team’s Big Ten opener against Purdue, 2005 inductees to the Minnesota athletics hall of fame were honored on the field.

Odds are a few of the Gophers playing in their first Big Ten game at Minnesota are going to be honored at halftime someday themselves.

Minnesota started six freshmen against the Boilermakers. Two – midfielders Kelsey Hood and Clare Grimwood – combined on the only Minnesota goal of the night.

In the Gophers’ 2-1 overtime win against Indiana on Sunday, three of the five Minnesota points were tallied by freshmen.

On the weekend, that’s five of seven points scored by freshmen. Not bad for the youngsters’ first conference weekend.

And a look at the conference leaders when Big Ten play began showed a heavy dose of Gophers freshmen.

Freshman forward Lindsey Schwartz was tied for fifth in goals in the league with four. Grimwood was tied for sixth in assists with three, and Schwartz was tied for ninth with two.

The program hasn’t been to the Big Ten tournament since 2000 and the NCAA tournament since 1997. A first-year class this promising spells a break in the clouds.

Purdue coach Rob Klatte said this year’s edition of Minnesota soccer is much better than what he has seen in years past.

“Their front-runners are skilled, and they want to one ‘v’ one and everything,” he said. “So they were dangerous. I think (Minnesota coach Mikki Denney Wright’s) doing a good job. They’re getting a lot better.”

When Denny Wright came to the Twin Cities as head coach, the team was in bad straits. In Barbara Wickstrand’s final three years as Minnesota coach, from 2001 to 2003, the Gophers won a total of six Big Ten games.

Doesn’t exactly make for the best recruiting pitch.

But thanks to Denney Wright and assistant coaches Brandon Barkus and Kate Cortis, the grass at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium is becoming a little greener for prep soccer stars.

“I never thought I’d come north, and they made me feel so much at home,” Hood said. “I wouldn’t have come here if (Denney Wright) hadn’t been here. So she’s awesome.”

And to hear people close to the program talk about it, the next class is going to be even better.

“I’m really, really, really pumped about them,” Hood said. “They have a lot of potential to be great.”

And where is the team going to be when this year’s freshmen mature into seniors?

“I can’t even imagine,” Denney Wright said. “They’re going to be sickening. It’s going to be really fun. And wait until you see the class we have coming in next year. They’re tremendous.”

If she can keep up this recruiting success, maybe Denney Wright could find herself enshrined in the hall of fame as well.