It had to have been a struggle in 2008. Beset with injuries and illness, the UMM women's soccer team went through a short stretch of games with no substitutes available. Still, they battled to the final whistle. Just five goals made the difference between second place and fourth place in the UMAC.
That's all in the past now as fourth-year head coach Dan Magner and assistant coach Scott Turnbull prepare for a 2009 season having only lost three players. That means lots of returning players with experience to share with the tremendous recruits arriving in Morris this season.
During 2008, in the first half of games, the women were outscored by only two goals all season. But in the second half and overtimes, they were bested by seven goals. UMM played six games without their leading scorer, Maddy Gerber, and lost their starting goalkeeper for the year during pre-season practice.
For these reasons, and others, Magner was especially excited to have a fresh beginning when camp opened on Aug. 19.
The Cougars are paced up front by senior striker and captain Nina Jarnot of Sartell,. Magner says her assertive and energetic play "fuels the team" and that her willingness to "play with full commitment in training and games" helps improve the entire squad. Last season Jarnot made the all-UMAC team for the third straight season and played all 20 games.
Sophomore Leah Parker of Minnetonka walked onto UMM last season and worked into the starting lineup by midseason. Magner says her powerful shot became one of the Cougars' best attack weapons. Parker stayed in shape in the spring by running track and field for UMM.
A transfer from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, junior Amber O'Connor of Ham Lake battled nagging injuries all season and yet played in 17 games, scoring four goals. Sister to Patrick and Justin on the men's team, O'Connor "really understands the game well," according to Magner, and "has it within her to dominate a game."
Endowed with "great technical skills," junior Bre Cross will play some striker this year after playing much of 2008 at midfield. Magner says Cross's "work rate" makes her one of the toughest players on the field, an idea supported by the fact that the Brooklyn Park native has come back from two ACL injuries during high school.
Junior captain Liz Vold of Sartell will be making a transition from defense to offense this season. A defender who started 19 games in 2008, Vold was known for her tenacious and rugged style of play, "attributes that will help us up front," Magner says. "She will generate goal scoring opportunities by pressuring opponents into mistakes."
Maddy Gerber of Mahtomedi will return to the midfield as the Cougars' leading goal scorer despite missing six games in 2008 with injury. The senior captain earned all-conference, all-UMAC tournament, and regional academic all-American awards last season. "She's the total package," raves Magner. "[Maddy] is athletic, intelligent, and sees the whole field all the time." Gerber paced the Cougars with six goals last season (13 points overall) scored on 37 shots for a team-high .162 shot percentage.
Gerber will receive support at midfield by a pair of junior midfielders. Captain Rachel Harstad of Hampton and Laura Hanson of Minnetonka return with significant playing time from last season. Harstad has played every position for the Cougars the past two years except goalkeeper, giving her an excellent ability to read the game. Hanson has shown great improvement over the past two years, says Magner, and keeps her teammates working hard in practice.
The Cougar defense is characterized by youth.
Magner calls sophomore Crystal Zastrow of Carlos "the Energizer bunny" for her constant movement and fight on the field. "She's small in stature but fears no one on the field." Her hard tackling and high work rate meant that Zastrow started all 20 games for UMM last season.
Cree Foster of Minneapolis is coming back from a frustrating 2008 when she missed all but four games with a hip injury. Having her back on defense will "make a major difference for us," says Magner. The sophomore player "has great pace and tackles exceptionally well." Sophomore Sarah Ranney of Groton, Mass. will also challenge for playing time in 2009.
Last season, junior goalkeeper Emily Jacob was thrust into the starting job when Andrea Dexter went down with a season-ending injury. The Minneapolis native responded brilliantly earning all-conference honors. In addition to her one-touch catching, Jacob directs the defense. "EJ commands things very well in the back," says Magner. "That keeps our players aware and ready."
Sophomore Ally Clare of Villard played both goalkeeper and defender last season. She could relieve Jacob for minutes or provide support to the backline players.
When coach Scott Turnbull came on as a full-time assistant last year, Magner knew it meant good things for recruiting as he could double the effort.
Thirty players are coming into camp this season, 15 of them new players, the largest recruiting class ever for women's soccer.
Magner says several of the new faces could challenge for playing time right away, having a positive impact on the team by increasing the competition during practice.
Most of this year's recruiting class hails from Minnesota (12 players) while two arrive from Arizona and one from Texas.
"Our non-conference schedule has been upgraded," Magner says, indicating games against MIAC opponents such as Gustavus Adolphus, St. Benedict, and Hamline. The Cougars will also travel to Iowa early in September for games against Buena Vista and Mount Marty College.
The Cougars begin UMAC play on the road at Presentation on September 15 and play their home conference opener against Northwestern on September 25.
The women's soccer team opens their home season on September 1 when they host Gustavus Adolphus.