The University of Minnesota soccer team is set to enter their 25th season in 2017, and the Gophers bring back a talented group of players from their 2016 Big Ten regular season and tournament championships.
To appreciate the accomplishment of 25 seasons of soccer at the University of Minnesota, this three-part series looks back at the timeline of the Gopher Soccer program.
In 1992, the University of Minnesota only had a club soccer team. Heather Anderson, who played both on the club team and the varsity team, said in an interview in 1995 that as a club team they had to put down 125 dollars for uniforms, and near the season's end, loaded into a vehicle to head to the national championships in Austin, Texas.
When the Maroon and Gold began their inaugural season, they played at Bierman Track and Field and Soccer Stadium in front of 455 excited fans. The first-ever Gopher goal came from freshman Jennifer Walek on an unassisted goal in the sixth minute.
Walek continued her career, which spanned from 1993-1997, by posting unbelievable numbers year in and year out. In the inaugural season, Walek finished with 22 goals, and 53 total points, which are both still the most in a single-season in Minnesota history.
The program recorded its first victory against Division III Macalester by a score of 4-1 at home. Sophomore Gretchen Brandt, who had transferred from Wisconsin, registered the program's first hat trick in the victory, an accomplishment she would reach again in the next game in Gophers victory over Division I Northern Illinois.
"I probably was elated back then," said Brandt. "I do remember having a pretty sweet header against Macalester. Being able to come back home to Minnesota and get back-to-back hat tricks was just awesome."
At the end of the 1993 season at the University of Minnesota, the Gophers collected a record of 13-6. The next season, Minnesota moved from the Bierman complex to the St. Paul Campus Soccer Field, which remained their home until 1999 when Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium opened.
"I know that once we moved, it was a safer venue than the track. It was a pretty small field at Bierman, and if you slid out of bounds, you were pretty much on the track," said Brandt. "We were just excited to have our own space."
The 1994 season was also the opening season for the Big Ten Conference in women's soccer. Minnesota collected its first ranked victory that season with a victory over No. 13 Wisconsin at home. Jennifer McElmury (Manning), who was a freshman at the time, said that the win over the Badgers was a turning point in the program.
"Beating Wisconsin was one of my fondest memories," Manning said. "Their program had started many years before ours did. That win put us on the map and told everyone that we were a good soccer program. Everyone was so happy and just amazed in the short amount of time we were able to beat the University of Wisconsin."
Minnesota went on to appear in the first-ever Big Ten tournament title game in 1994 after entering the tournament as the fifth seed. The Gophers were defeated, but the season of firsts was seen as a success.
The expectations were not just high in the Twin Cities, but nationally as well. They entered the 1995 season ranked No. 24 and backed it up by finishing the Big Ten regular season as the best team. They even avenged their 1994 title game loss by defeating Wisconsin 1-0 to sweep the Big Ten crowns.
"I think what stands out most to me was the Big Ten Championship," Brandt said. "I definitely remember that and how uncomfortable it was to be on the bottom of a dog pile. The celebration was incredible, and to be able to get a ring was just unreal."
The Gophers, who began the soccer program just three years prior, headed to the NCAA tournament for the first time and Manning said the early success really gave the program a boost.
"I think it just sped up the process of the program being recognized nationally faster," said Manning. "After we were able to do that, we were able to attract players from the east coast, the west coast and Canada and were able to show them that we can contend for championships and play like a family."
The Gophers entered their first NCAA tournament as one of the 24-teams in the nation. The appearance began a string of five consecutive NCAA tournament berths for the Gopher soccer program.
An NCAA tournament victory came two years later in 1997 when the Gophers defeated Wisconsin-Milwaukee at home 2-1. Minnesota rolled through Big Ten play that year going 9-0 becoming the first team to finish with an unblemished record during the season.
"That year I just remember a lot of close games," said Manning. "I remember we were down 3-0 to Penn State at home, and all the talk was about we just need one goal and we will back in the game. Sure enough, we ended up getting one and forcing overtime and eventually winning."
The Gophers rolled to a program-record 13-straight victories in 1997, as well as a 15-game unbeaten streak. Minnesota swept the postseason awards with Manning winning her second straight Big Ten Player of the Year award, Laurie Seidl the Newcomer of the Year winner, and Coach Montagne won Coach of the Year.
Minnesota won one NCAA tournament game in each of the two seasons, including a 6-0 victory over Kentucky in 1998 in the final game at the St. Paul Campus Soccer Field, and a 2-0 victory over Eastern Kentucky in 1999.
With the end of a century came the end of an era. 1999 ended up being Sue Montagne's final season coaching the Gophers. 1999 also brought in exciting news for the program. The Gophers began the 1999 season in the newly minted home of Gopher soccer, Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.
Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium began construction after the generous gift of $900,000 from Deborah Olson and the $1.2 million appropriated from the Minnesota state legislature. With the gift from Olson, the stadium obtained its name after her mother, Elizabeth Lyle Robbie.
Despite seating only 1,000, Gopher fans piled into the state-of-the-art stadium with 1,432 fans in the opening match against Arizona State. Minnesota prevailed 1-0 with Seidl netting the first goal in the Gophers new home.
Check back next week for the second and third installments of our 25 Seasons of Minnesota Soccer series.
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