Vocal, swagger, gritty and calm. These are all words that describe the University of Minnesota defensive unit this season. The Gophers have allowed just three goals this season, which is the second fewest in program history through seven games.
Arguably more impressive, the stout Minnesota back line has held opponents to just 13 shots on goal, the fewest allowed through seven games in program history. Each of the past four seasons, Minnesota has allowed fewer and fewer quality opportunities.
“When I got here six seasons ago, I didn’t want to just change everything all at once,” head coach Stefanie Golan recalled. “We kept Krystle [Seidel] to coach our defenders. We talked about what defined them, and that was the high line, high pressing style.”
The Gophers high-pressure style has continued under Golan and Seidel. The current coaching staff recruited all four of the Gophers defensive starters, but many others did not believe that these players would be able to be successful.
“With Peterson and Gaffney in particular, who are local kids, a lot of people thought we were out of our minds recruiting them,” Golan explained. “Saying that there no way that they could play at this level.”
“We are all really hard workers, and that is the majority of the reason why a lot of us got recruited here,” said senior Maddie Gaffney. “There is obviously talent, but there are more talented players out there. That hard working trait helps us separate ourselves from others.”
“I came in and didn’t know where I was going to be placed. I was never a true defender or a true forward,” junior Emily Peterson said.
Nikki Albrecht was the only one of the group to be able to come in as a freshman and make an immediate impact on the field.
“She is a beast of an athlete,” said Golan. “She just has to continue to develop the composure that she sees in the upperclassmen around her. I think when she develops that composure piece, then that kid is going to skyrocket.”
The group together has four distinct traits that they all excel in.
“Petey is the one that brings us all together and is the calm, always composed, connects every pass, and we need that,” said senior captain Tori Burnett. “If we don’t have that, then we’d all be freaking out all the time.”
“Sometimes Tori will tell me to attack a different way and then I’ll make a different decision and it will still work, so she’ll say ‘okay, don’t even listen to me, just do you’,” said Albrecht. “Tori gives us confidence that we are free to be successful in our own ways.”
“I’d be scared if I was a forward and I had Nikki and Maddie running at me, because you aren’t going to beat them,” Burnett said. “They are way more fit and gritty than you are.”
The Gophers back line has scored eight points combined this season, which is more they have allowed by other teams (seven). Coach Golan says the success can be credited to more than just their development.
“This group has a lot of belief, with Tori [Burnett], [Maddie] Gaffney and [Emily] Peterson, they all didn’t start right away,” Golan said. “They worked their way into the starting lineup and had a great work ethic. The standard they all hold for themselves is something that garners a lot of respect and confidence from the players around them.”
The defensive unit says they are fortunate to have had Krystle Seidel coaching them since they have started at the University of Minnesota.
“She demands perfection. She is one of those coaches that you want to give perfection to, you don’t want to disappoint her,” said Burnett. “We get frustrated with ourselves if we are not doing our jobs perfectly. Perfect for us means no shots on goal.”
Despite all playing in seasons prior, the unit says that this year there are multiple factors that have gone into their early success.
“I think that since everyone has gotten significant minutes, everyone’s confidence has grown immensely,” Gaffney said. “I think we all really respect each other, not only as players, but as people.”
“We hold an extremely high line. It is an uncomfortably high line,” said Burnett. “We trust ourselves and trust our training to force them into a tighter space than they would like. We are playing with fire because if one person is off, the whole line is beat and they are going straight to goal. It is risky, but when you get it right, it is fantastic.”
“High risk, high reward,” added Albrecht.
“I think it is easier to have that aggressive mentality when you have players around you that share that same mentality,” Peterson said. “We really don’t look at ourselves and focus individually, we are all very team oriented.”
Overall, the unit says trust ultimately is the biggest factor in how they have been able to play so far this season. With the Big Ten season to begin this weekend, the Gophers say their mentality will not change.
“I don’t think we need to change. We don’t need to change who we are to play with these teams,” said Albrecht. “Other teams have to change to be able to play with us.”
“We’ve all played Big Ten games, we understand what to expect,” Peterson said.
“We invite the challenge. We like challenges,” added Albrecht.
Gophers Settle for 2-2 Tie With Michigan
The University of Minnesota soccer team went another 110 minutes in their Big Ten Network game against Michigan, which ended in a 2-2 draw at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.
Gophers To Face Wolverines on Big Ten Network
On the BTN for the first time this season, Minnesota (4-2-2, 0-1-0) will host Michigan (4-2-3, 1-1) on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.
Gophers to Celebrate Kathleen Ridder
Gopher Athletics is celebrating Kathleen Ridder Day at women's hockey, soccer, and volleyball on Sunday, Sept. 24.