The 2007 Minnesota Soccer season is fast approaching, and the Gopher coaching staff is hard at work making preparations for the arrival of this year’s squad. With the start of camp just one week away, we sat down with head coach Mikki Denney Wright and asked her some poignant questions about the start of fall practice and the 2007 version of her Golden Gophers.
Q: When does the Gopher Soccer squad get the 2007 season underway?
A: They check in Tuesday, and on Wednesday we’ll start training. We have a practice facility and a game facility at Elizabeth Lyle Stadium on the University’s St. Paul campus.
Q: What are you excited about the most for the start of preseason camp?
A: There’s nothing more exciting than, after a break, seeing your team come back together. I’m always so impressed with the work they’ve done over the course of the summer. Their commitment to our program over the summer is always great, and they’re building themselves into even better players.
What’s also fun is that there’s an entirely new team dynamic each year, because you bring in all these new freshmen. Ever year we’ve brought in a lot of freshmen, and it always completely changes the team. As coaches, you sit there and say, “I can’t wait to see what we can do with this team.”
Q: That’s a good point you’re returning 11 letterwinners from a year ago, but also bring in a number of talented newcomers. Do you think the team chemistry is going to be distinctly different this year compared to others?
A: I think it will be very different; it’s always different. Every year it changes whenever you bring in new kids, there are changes. I think the consistent is that we’ve always had a great family atmosphere here, and we’ve had a great standard and a great competitive training environment.
Q: Are there any players in particular that you are you most looking forward to seeing come back for camp, to see how much they’ve improved over the summer?
A: Not really no one anymore than the rest! (laughs) I’m at the point where I’m excited to see where they’re all at. It is wide open as far as starting spots at this point. I don’t think that anything is solidified, and that always makes for an exciting preseason camp. We just don’t have a ton of veterans, so it’s wide open.
Q: What are some of the goals that you’re looking to accomplish at camp?
A: The first thing is just establishing our training culture, how we do things at Minnesota Soccer. Not just on the field, but off the field educating our kids on what it means to be part of this program. We have very high expectations for them in every regard. That’s the most important thing, is setting that standard, which we start to do on day one. Then it’s about, number one, developing our system of play and how we’re going to defend and how we’re going to go at teams, implementing the “Minnesota Way.” The second point is all about individual development, which we call our “Champion Development Program.” That’s our philosophy on how we build the best players, so we hope to implement that into our fall program.
Q: Do you have any big scheme changes that you’re planning on making this fall?
A: Yeah, actually there are some pretty big changes. We’ve had a pretty consistent way of doing things the last three years, but because of where our program is at, we’ve made some evolutions that we’re very excited about. In terms of system, we’ve tweaked it to fit our incoming kids and to fit our depth. I think we’ll have more talent and depth than we’ve had in three years, no question.
Q: In terms of your timetable, things happen pretty quickly your first exhibition game is the Saturday after you begin practice (August 18 vs. South Dakota State) and your first regular season game is pretty soon as well (August 31 vs. Central Florida). How do you plan to handle this relatively quick transition?
A: That’s what the exhibition games are for, and that’s why we put them on our schedule. There’s no better way to learn and grow than in a competitive game situation. It’s like any sport (there’s a big difference) between practicing and playing in a high-pressure situation. That’s why we have two exhibition games this year, because we’re making some changes. You never know how quickly things are going to develop. Last year was incredibly slow. (The 2006 freshmen) didn’t really develop until the spring. The year before that, our freshmen were ready right when they stepped on the field. Last year’s freshmen weren’t ready until probably April.
Q: Do you think this year’s freshmen class will be ready pretty quickly?
A: I have no idea. I hope they’re ready on day one! Every team is a little bit different, especially freshmen. You never know when they’re going to be ready step in and play. Our 2005 class, that first freshmen class we had, we had six players ready to step in at the get-go. That is very rare. Last year, our freshmen really struggled to step in right away. I think that they’ve developed since then, but I hope this freshmen class can step in sometime this fall. We need that.
Q: You mentioned doing some kind of “off-the-field” training earlier... What does that entail?
A: I think it’s just educating them on the way we do things. It’s a standard in the classroom, and it’s a standard in the way they conduct themselves. No matter what, you’re representing the University of Minnesota. That’s something that is very important to us. It’s the standard and way of doing things. I’m not a big fan of creating fake team chemistry; it had to be real. That has to come through time and developing real relationships. It doesn’t come from a “kumbaya” thing out in the woods; that doesn’t change your team culture. There’s nothing that builds team chemistry better than winning.