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‘There’s really no ceiling for her’: The growth of Gophers soccer’s Megan Plaschko and her relationship with coach Tarah Nupson

Plaschko has 11 shutouts in just 17 career starts and has yet to concede a goal this season.
Image by Christopher Mitchell – Gopher Athletics
Volunteer goalkeeper coach Tarah Nupson speaks to junior goalkeeper Megan Plaschko during a match against Wyoming at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium in Falcon Heights, Minn. on Sunday, Sept. 5.

Before junior goalkeeper Megan Plaschko’s sophomore season earlier this spring, Gophers soccer’s director of goalkeeping, Alli Lipsher, left the team to pursue a professional coaching opportunity with Kansas City of the National Women’s Soccer League.

To replace Lipsher, the Gophers hired one of their former star goalkeepers, Tarah Nupson, formerly Tarah Hobbs, as their volunteer goalkeeper coach earlier this year.

“It feels really good to be back,” Nupson said. “I never thought I would be back here in Minnesota, but it’s fun to be in a place where it impacted your career and your life along the way too. To be able to help support and give back and serve the team in different ways is fun. I’ve been excited about it since [returning].”

From the moment Nupson stepped into the Gophers goalkeeper room, she has been nothing short of a source of positivity and energy. It didn’t take long for Plaschko to take notice, and she quickly figured out that she and Nupson think similarly as soccer players.

“Tarah and I have a good bond,” Plaschko said. “As soon as she came in, she was so full of energy. Her coming in was something that opened a lot of things up for me. The way she coaches just fits the way I play so well.”

When coaching changes happen, it can sometimes be challenging for players to rebuild trust with a new coach. Coaching transitions can also be difficult for players because every coach tends to have a unique training and coaching style.

Nupson made it clear that she focused on building trust and her relationships with her goalkeepers when she stepped in. She concentrated on being a mentor for them, whether preparing them for a match, training for the week or just being there for them.

As a backup for then-senior goalkeeper Maddie Nielsen last spring, Plaschko became the Gophers starting goalie just three games into her sophomore season.

Nupson gave Plaschko lots of affirmation, telling her that she deserved everything about the starting role.

“She gave me so much confidence before every game,” Plaschko said. “She would [tell me], ‘Just go be you because you deserve this, you earned it, do what you do well, you’re going to do great.’ I think that she exudes energy and confidence onto all of us.”

Plaschko, originally from Eagan, Minn., took her enormous opportunity and never looked back. In the 2020-21 season, she earned five shutouts, made 25 saves and conceded only eight goals as the starting goalkeeper in 10 matches.

While Plaschko had a solid first season as the starting goalkeeper, she recalled one of the most challenging moments of her young Gophers career. In March, she had a two-game stretch in the same week where she allowed a total of four goals against Penn State and Rutgers, half the amount of the goals she’s conceded her entire career.

Plaschko doesn’t remember the last time she had performances as bad as the ones she had that weekend in mid-March. She said she was upset; however, Nupson was right there to pick her up and help her clear her mind, reminding Plaschko that there were still many matches left in the season.

“I was so mad, and [Nupson] was like, ‘Hey, we go to the next week, and we go to the next game,’” Plaschko said. “She knows the times to be hard. She knows the times to lift you up, give you energy and give you confidence. She’s been huge in my development both as a player and person on this team. She’s such a great person.”

During their short time together, Plaschko said Nupson has helped her the most in building her confidence as a goalkeeper and managing crosses in matches. As a shorter goalkeeper than most at her position, managing crosses is even more critical for Plaschko because of the footwork and discipline she needs to have during crosses. Nupson made sure to work on this with her throughout training.

“It was a step by step, inch by inch process, but she never gave up on me,” Plaschko said. “She would never get frustrated if I wasn’t learning or I didn’t understand something. She would take the time for extra work with me. I think it was huge for me. Then the confidence piece; she just never made it a doubt in my mind that I didn’t deserve to be where I was.”

Plaschko was also named a captain for the 2021 season alongside Delaney Stekr and Makenzie Langdok, who make up half of the Gophers’ backline.

A big reason for the success of the backline starts with Plaschko. She is arguably the most vocal player on the pitch, helping organize the backline and alerting them of situations throughout matches.

Nupson said that Plaschko’s communication has been crucial in the backline.

“I think by her communication, she has stopped goals before they even happen. The organization of our backline, even the trust that they have together as a back five, has been helpful and really crucial for the clean sheets that we’ve had so far,” Nupson said.

The communication from Plaschko is a way for her to stay engaged in matches, especially in ones where she does not see many shots. It keeps her focused and gives her the ability to be ready at a moment’s notice, she said.

So far, throughout the 2021 season, Plaschko has yet to concede a goal. With the help of the Gophers’ backline, she has six individual clean sheets.

Plaschko has helped the team remain undefeated through their non-conference schedule, marking only the second time the program has remained undefeated through non-conference play.

“It’s been fun to see her grow,” Nupson said. “I’ve seen her confidence grow a ton as a goalkeeper and person. There’s really no ceiling for her. I think she has a ton of potential. It’s been a joy as a coach to continue to help develop her.”

Currently, Plaschko has 11 shutouts in just 17 career starts. If she continues this pace with the three years of eligibility she has remaining in her career, there’s a chance she can make a run toward Nupson’s program record of 33 shutouts.

For Nupson, she hopes that Plaschko beats her shutout record. She’s excited to see what the future holds for the Gophers’ starting goalkeeper, mentioning how fun it would be to coach the player who breaks her record.

“I honestly hope she does [break the record],” Nupson said. “I’m really excited for her. Records are always meant to be broken. It’s fun to be the one who coaches the one who does it.”

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