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Leaders are often portrayed as vocal, outspoken and the most known players on sports teams. The University of Minnesota soccer team surely has that in some of their top players, but it may be the quiet and non-vocal players that are helping the Gophers statistically dominate this season.
This season the Gophers are currently leading in every offensive category thus far. They lead in total shots with 208; they have scored a conference leading 30 goals this season. The Maroon and Gold have 34 assists, which totals to 94 points, which are all the most in the always-competitive Big Ten.
This team has also had 14 different players score this season, which is a program-record. No other team in the Big Ten has more than 11 different players who have scored this season.
On paper, Sydney Squires leads the Gophers offensively, and the always-vocal senior captain Tori Burnett on the defensive end. Yet the players who surround them have done more than just surround the stars, they have led by example.
You will often find junior Molly Fiedler bouncing off defenders in the middle of the field, and can be seen making great passes, but she is also one of the most soft spoken players on the field.
“When I see other players running around and working their hardest, it makes me want to be that example for others as well and trigger something in someone around me so they work their hardest and do their best.”
While the Gopher goal scorers have gathered the attention that goal scorers always do, April Bockin has quietly put together one of the best seasons in the Big Ten with her NCAA leading nine assists.
“I generally talk to people individually,” said Bockin. “I think part of leading is finding people you can talk to and reach out to them individually and not yelling at them from across the field.”
As the head coach, Stefanie Golan says she does her best to not let herself get too high or too low during a game.
“I always feel like if we as a coaching staff keep composure, that it will reflect how our players react to adversity and challenges,” Golan explained. “We want to demonstrate our trust in our players, but if the highs get too high and the lows get too low, then our players are going to act that way as well.”
The Gophers have kept their composure defensively this season, leading the Big Ten in shots and shots on goal allowed this season with just 96 total shots allowed and an astounding 28 on goal.
“It’s all impressive,” Golan said. “I love the fact that when you play against us, you know that there isn’t going to be just one thing you have to worry about. You’re going to put under pressure, and a lot of it.”
“I think we just let our play do the talking for us,” senior defender Maddie Gaffney explained. “I’m just not a very vocal person, even off the field. I know I need to step up in some sort of way, and letting my play do that for me is the best way I can step up."
“I feel like I just do the little things,” added junior defender Emily Peterson. “We don’t do the huge and extravagant gestures that everyone usually notices; we are almost like the players behind the scenes.”
Minnesota has been able to change the standard the past few seasons in the Big Ten. For multiple years prior to 2016, Penn State has statistically dominated the Big Ten, but the past season and a half, the Gophers have been the top dog.
“We are working on setting a new standard,” Golan said. “We’ve been recruiting players who have the ability to flip the switch and transition from defending to attacking.”
The Gophers have been flipping the switch as a team in the locker room as well this season. This season the team has brought in a hardhat team award that goes to a player who displays a particular trait that Gopher soccer values that week. The Gophers have 12 traits, and so far have awarded things on trustworthiness, grit, selfless, competitive and more.
“When you hear about each player getting that week’s award, and what it means to them, it is always a little emotional,” explained Golan. “That is something that really embodies the lead by example standard.”
“Every week it gives you something to strive for,” Gaffney said. “It also gives girls who don’t get recognized, an opportunity to be recognized. It might be even mean more than being recognized by the Big Ten. Being recognized by your teammates means that much.”
The Gophers are leading the Big Ten in numerous categories this season, but in every season there is always a challenge that will arise. The Gophers say they know they can get through that challenge when it arises.
“It is often easy in soccer to blame one side or the other, and this year especially we haven’t been playing the blame game,” said Peterson.
“We also know that if one position group or player is struggling, we will have others that will step up,” Gaffney added. “We will have a defender come up and score a big goal or a midfielder decide to start taking more shots.”
Despite dominating statistically, the Gophers have been picked sixth and this season fifth in the preseason Big Ten poll the last two years. The Gophers say the lack of recognition just fuels how they play each and every game.
“I say thank you to that kind of stuff. It is a motivating factor for us,” Golan said. “That is a part of the reason why this program is so special because we know people don’t think we should be as good as we are, that is something that helps us keep the mindset to prove something every time we go out and play.”
“It’s fun proving people wrong,” said Fiedler.
“I think we have proven over the past few years that we are a team capable of competing for that top spot in the Big Ten,” Bockin said. “We are always seen as the underdog because not many people think of Minnesota as a soccer state. Every year we prove them wrong, and I think eventually they are going to start to notice us, and if they don’t, that is their fault.
As the Gophers continue to push along during gauntlet of the Big Ten, they say they will continue to do what they know, and that is play Minnesota style soccer. While all of the big named players and programs collect the attention, the Gophers will continue to let their play do the talking for them.
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