Whenever she is slammed into the ground by an opposing defender standing half a foot taller than her, Rachael Roth is reminded there is more to being Minnesota’s go-to soccer player than goals and glory.
But that doesn’t mean the 5-foot-3 forward has a problem with contact.
“Everyone knows that if they can contain Roach, then basically they can beat Minnesota,” coach Barbara Wickstrand said, referring to Roth by her nickname.
“She is a tough kid physically and mentally, so she takes it and she likes it. I think she thrives on it, so it’s kind of fun. We need more Roaches out there with that kind of attitude.”
Roth got a taste of aggressive play early in the second half of an Oct. 12 loss to Northwestern.
Less than a minute after being taken down by a Wildcats player, Roth was on her feet, limping. Just under 20 minutes after that, Roth did what she does best: fired the ball into the back of the net.
Two days later, while nursing a charley horse and a twisted ankle, she scored the tying goal in a 2-1 overtime victory at Wisconsin.
“I felt like I was double teamed in a lot of games,” Roth said. “When I played Northwestern, I was getting knocked out left and right. It’s kind of fun because it’s a bigger challenge… I have two older brothers and a younger brother so I’m kind of used to getting picked on and beat up.”
With six goals and 14 points, Roth has been a bright spot in a dark season for the Gophers. After tallying just one goal and in 18 starts as a freshman, she has had a point on all of the team’s goals this season.
“She’s as good as any forward we’ve played this year, including the kids from (fourth-ranked) Penn State,” said Indiana coach Joe Kelley, whose team gave up a goal to Roth in a 3-1 victory this season. “When she had an opportunity, she buried it.”
Becoming Minnesota’s top scorer wasn’t an easy task for the sophomore from Wayzata.
“Rachael’s our No. 1 forward workhorse,” said sweeper Samantha Meyers, who has assisted two of Roth’s goals. “She’s always working 100 percent at practice and always going hard. She is very competitive, and I think that has helped her tremendously coming from last year.”
Roth competed on the club level over the summer for St. Croix Sadhaka and trained with a friend who plays professional soccer in Peru.
While her off-season training routine contributes to her success this season, Roth’s teammates and coach point to a change in her attitude.
“You can tell she’s a lot more confident,” goalkeeper Julie Eibensteiner said. “The other team can sense when there’s a confident player coming at them, too. So she’s a good weapon up there now.”
Wickstrand says Roth’s confidence is the main reason she has increased her production.
“Her whole mindset is, `I’ve got to get a goal,’ and last year she would kind of avoid the goal,” Wickstrand said. “She would try to pass it off and not be responsible for taking shots. This year, she’s got confidence and she knows that we’ve given her full rights to go forward.”
Despite playing for a Gophers team on pace to set a school record-low in scoring, Roth is tied for seventh in the Big Ten in goals. Only two other Minnesota players have points.
“It’s not frustrating, but lately there’s been pressure,” she said. “I feel like if I don’t score or make that pass, our team isn’t going to do it because it hasn’t happened this year.”
After becoming one of the top forwards in the conference as a sophomore, Roth will have a chance to make even more of an impact next season.
The biggest challenge for Roth will be her height. Many Big Ten defenders are 5-foot-10 or taller.
“It’s hard, especially when the defenders are way taller than me,” she said. “A lot of times our team kicks it up in the air to me, which doesn’t really work.
“It’s kind of frustrating, and I wish I was a little taller, but I think I’m pretty strong for my size and I’m trying to get stronger for next year.”
Jabari Ritchie covers soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]