A little more than a month after Mikki Denney Wright resigned as head coach of the Gophers women’s soccer team, Stefanie Golan took charge.
Athletics director Norwood Teague announced Golan as Minnesota’s next head coach last Wednesday in one of his first major decisions on the job. Golan will move on from Army at West Point, where she’s been head coach for three years.
At first glance, Golan appears similar to her predecessor. Both were defenders in college, both are in their 30s and both have families.
Golan is married and has a 6-year-old son. Denney Wright cited her family — specifically her 1- and 3-year-old sons — as her reason for resigning May 22.
But associate athletics director Regina Sullivan said these similarities didn’t factor into Golan’s hiring.
“They weren’t things that we discussed,” Sullivan said. “She is very different in that she’s already been a head coach. Mikki hadn’t been at that point in her career at this leve,l and I think that’s a significant difference.”
Sullivan said Golan would reap the benefit of Denney Wright’s success and take the team a step further.
Golan, who will start July 16, said she agreed and plans to build off what Denney Wright started while implementing her own plan.
“There’s no secret that in the past couple years Minnesota has accomplished a lot of great things,” Golan said. “As I went through the [application] process, I felt like everything was in place — support was around the program to push it to where you can be consistently successful.”
Golan said Army is in a good place, but Minnesota’s potential was strong enough to convince her to switch jobs.
Over her three years as head coach at Army, Golan posted a 33-18-10 record, winning 54 percent of her games. Denney Wright won 55 percent of her games during her eight years as head coach of Minnesota.
“She’s an outstanding coach, great person,” Denney Wright said. “I know the program’s in really good hands.”
Denney Wright knew of Golan from their playing days. Denney Wright said Golan took a recruiting trip to Minnesota after Denney Wright had just graduated from the Gophers.
Denney Wright spoke to Golan this summer during the interview process and gave her input. Current players also had the opportunity to feel out the new coach during a daylong interview.
Senior and team captain Tam Strahota said Golan doesn’t feel the need to completely overhaul the team.
“[We wanted to] get the sense that she has high hopes and high goals for us and not that she’s coming into a program that still needs work,” Strahota said. “She had said that this program had already been started. … She knows she’s coming into a team that’s already established.”
Golan said her main goal for her tenure with the Gophers is consistency.
“The interesting thing has been over the last four years … those two years they went to the Sweet Sixteen [2008 and 2010]. Well, the other two years they didn’t even go to the tournament,” Golan said. “To push beyond and compete for College Cups, which is what we would like to do long term, you have to have the consistency of being in that environment.”
Golan will also bring a new flavor to Minnesota’s recruiting in order to achieve these goals. In the Denney Wright era, recruiting was largely regional in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. On the current roster, only three of 20 women are non-Minnesota natives.
“We definitely have to own the state of Minnesota,” Golan said. “However, we definitely want to expand upon that.”
She said she believes the team can get good players out of Canada and expand into Washington, Colorado and maybe some of the Northeast.
On the field, Golan said she wants to use defense as an offensive strategy.
“I’m definitely a very disciplined, defensive coach. … The expectation every game is ‘Let’s earn a shutout,’” Golan said. But she called herself a “very attacking-minded coach.”
“Part of our attack will come from our defending.”
Golan said she also wants to continue the team’s family atmosphere that thrived under Denney Wright. The team’s motto is “building family, building champions,” and Golan said she understands this from experiencing it at Army.
“Team culture is such a huge part of what we do,” she said.
Having the longtime head coach resign unexpectedly shook up the team, Strahota said. If Golan decides to change the coaching staff, the players may lose assistant coaches Krystle Seidel and Jerrod Roh as well.
But Golan said she won’t make those decisions right away.
“I want to give them an opportunity first to get to know me and figure out pretty quickly whether or not I think it’s going to be a good fit,” Golan said. “Some coaches will come in and say, ‘I’m cleaning house, I’m bringing in my staff.’ I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do right now.”
Although the Gophers have had to endure major change in the last month, Strahota said the team is more than capable of dealing with the adjustments.
“Knowing our team and handling adversity … I think it’ll be easier for us to transition with this,” Strahota said. “Having a new coach, I think it’ll be a fun experience for all of us.”
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