The 2010 soccer season was one of the most successful ever for the Gophers women’s team, which made the Sweet 16 for the second time in team history, not to mention the second time in the last three years.
But 2010 was also the last hurrah for seven of the team’s seniors, making a solid 2011 recruiting class all but essential for another run next season.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that, by default, losing that many seniors would make 2011 a rebuilding year.
Gophers coach Mikki Denney Wright had a different take.
“Hopefully we’re to the point where we don’t have to rebuild,” Denney Wright said. “We want to just reload.”
Reload they did, signing seven recruits — one for every departing senior — for next year, including the Pioneer Press player of the year and Taylor Uhl, Minnesota’s 2010 Ms. Soccer and the Star Tribune player of the year.
Uhl, an Eden Prairie High School senior, partnered with teammate and fellow Gopher recruit Kathleen Thyken to lead Eden Prairie to an undefeated season and the 2010 state title.
“I’ve been playing with Taylor since I was 8,” Thyken said, “so we kind of know each other a little bit.”
The pair’s high school coach, Tony Bidwell, said Thyken and Uhl have contrasting, complementary styles of play, which he thinks will benefit the Gophers immediately.
“Katie and Taylor are two of the best players in the state as far as I’m concerned,” Bidwell said. “I think they both bring attributes that are going to be fantastic assets to the development of a team next year that’s looking to replace several departing seniors.”
While Uhl is projected to play forward for the Gophers and is known primarily as a goal scorer, Bidwell said Thyken “could probably play anywhere on the pitch.”
Denney Wright said Thyken will likely start as a defender.
Thyken and Uhl are not the only standouts in the Gophers’ 2011 class.
“It’s a really deep year in Minnesota, which is great,” Denney Wright said. “That’s one of our pipelines. [This is] one of the best years as far as depth we’ve seen in the state. These are the kids we targeted early on and luckily we got them all.”
One of those is Centennial High School’s Becca Roberts, who led the Cougars to three Northwest Suburban Conference titles and a berth in the 2009 state tournament.
“[Roberts] is a player we see battling for a starting spot immediately,” Denney Wright said. “She’s a back, and I think she fits perfect into the mold of what we look for in our backs … I think she’ll be an incredible impact player.”
Denney Wright said she sees no reason why Thyken, Uhl and Roberts, along with the other four incoming freshmen, can’t contribute to the team right away.
“In soccer, it’s not like football where you redshirt freshmen and things like that. They have to [make an] impact right away for us to have the season we want to have … I certainly hope that all of them will push for a starting spot.”
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