10 Aug 5 Reasons to Get Excited for the Start of Soccer Season
Soccer | 8/10/2021 11:44:00 AM
After an offseason of change the University of Minnesota soccer program is now in the hands of head coach Erin Chastain for the upcoming 2021 season. With a new leader at the helm, Gopher fans have plenty to be excited about and Chastain offers some of her favorite reasons about why she can’t wait to have her team on the field at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.
Strong Female Leaders
With a new leader of the program, there came changes to the rest of the coaching staff during the summer months. Chastain brought in new assistant coach Allie Wisner along with retaining Maya Hayes as an assistant. The all-female coaching staff is one of just four among Power 5 women’s soccer staffs.
“I had an all-female staff at DePaul as well and it’s always been important to me,” Chastain said. “Women have been in the minority in the coaching profession for a long time and we still are. There are more and more qualified women coming up the ranks that can be huge parts of program success. We just saw Canada has a female head coach and they just won the gold medal. You’re seeing more women coaching in the NWSL and so that’s something that’s certainly been a priority for me.”
“When I got my start in coaching I was 22. Marcia McDermott at Northwestern hired me and I didn’t have a lot of experience but she saw potential in me. I think it’s really important to surround young women with strong female role models, especially qualified ones. I wanted to hire the best staff possible regardless of gender, but I was fortunate enough to find strong female leaders and those were the best choices for our program. I think they’re going to be able to really not only be great coaches but great role models for the young women in our program for years to come.
I Know Her, Her and Her!
Minnesota’s core nucleus returns in 2021, with seven of the 11 starters from the Gophers final match last season making a comeback to ELR this season. The team is full of versatile student-athletes that have a lot of their best days in front of them.
“I think it’s a good core group of veteran players that have had a lot of different experiences in their journey at Minnesota,” Chastain explained. “[Megan] Plaschko has a ton of experience from this past year in goal. She’s started off preseason strong and she’s a leader for us and I’m excited about what she can do back there not only from a shot-stopping perspective but also from a presence perspective. We’re excited about Delaney Stekr at center-back. She’s got great distribution, she’s a great leader, and she’s super tough and disciplined and can win balls out of the air. Hard to not to be excited about Sophia Boman. She was a fun player for people to watch and she’s got an engine and has huge potential to be a big-time player in this program. I also have to mention Megan Gray coming back. I know she bounced around position-wise last year but she’s got an engine on her and is a super competitive player and is really versatile.”
Not only do the Gophers have experience back from last year’s roster, but they also have winners in the program, winners who made significant contributions to the 2018 Big Ten Tournament Championship. Makenzie Langdok, Patricia Ward, McKenna Buisman and Megan Gray all played minutes in that championship match against Penn State.
“It is really invaluable when you have winners in your program,” Chastain said. “I would add that this senior leadership is also motivated because they know the feeling of losing. Losing can sometimes be an even bigger motivator. What I challenged them with this year is, when they look back on their experience at Minnesota, I want to make sure that every year there are great moments for them to pull from.”
Impactful New Faces
Although a core group of veterans return for the Maroon and Gold, there is a reason to be excited with the influx of talent that will hit the field this fall. The incoming freshmen paired alongside a few transfers, the Minnesota faithful will have plenty to cheer for this fall.
“It’ll be fun to see Izzy Brown play games for us finally,” said Chastain. “She’s not a returner, although she trained with the team last spring, but she came from a storied program in North Carolina and could be a really impactful forward for us. Christa VanLoon [who last played with Oral Roberts] is a wide player and good one-on-one attacker and I think finding her way as we start training.”
“Jaden Peck came in and did really well on our fitness test and is a dangerous attacking player. Khyah Harper is a tremendous forward with a lot of potential in terms of what she can do in the Big Ten. She’s a goal scorer, she’s got a great soccer IQ and she’s already scored some outstanding goals in training so it’ll be fun to see how she develops this season.”
Home Sweet Home
With a total of 10 regular season matches, along with a home exhibition, the Gophers will have plenty of stellar competition at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium this season. Not only with a loaded Big Ten schedule, but the non-conference home slate is another reason to make sure you don’t miss the action in Minnesota this season.
“It is going to be so exciting because no one was able to come to games last year,” Chastain said. “From a soccer fan’s perspective, it is going to be great to see this team play live after a year break. We are looking at a number of NCAA Tournament teams and teams that have had good years the past couple seasons. Obviously the rivalry with Wisconsin is always huge and they just missed out on the NCAA Tournament this spring. Rutgers and Penn State both played in the tournament and both have strong programs. Then we have some SEC opponents in Mississippi State coming to ELR as well. There will be awesome competitions for people to come watch all season long. It is just going to be great for people to be able to get to know our 2021 group.”
‘This is Home’
The mantra of ‘This is Home’ has been circulating around the program since Chastain, who played for the Gophers from 1993-96, took over the program in June. Year in and year out, the Gophers are near the top of the Big Ten in regards to attendance, and with the return of fans to University of Minnesota athletic events, a soccer match atmosphere at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium should feel back at its peak in 2021.
“‘This is Home’ means so much to me,” Chastain said with a smile. “I really think it means a lot to our team too. They feel at home at the University of Minnesota and at our stadium. Even our exhibition game against St. Thomas will be really fun to have fans there and to watch the team play at ELR. We are so grateful we have such a great facility and an outstanding environment. I am thrilled to be actually a part of that environment when it’s my program. I came here with DePaul and I was still proud to be an alumni of Minnesota. It’s going to be a whole different ball game now that I’m on the home side at ELR.”
Minnesota’s 2021 regular season begins on Aug. 19, when the Maroon and Gold host Baylor at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. The match will kick off at 6 p.m. on BTN+.
Make sure to follow the Gophers on Twitter and Instagram (@GopherSoccer) and on Facebook so you do not miss any content during the 2021 season.
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