U soccer coach enjoying the ride

  • Updated: October 31, 2012 - 12:13 AM

Stefanie Golan has had a smooth transition despite not being hired until June.

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Taylor Uhl has a team-leading 19 goals for the Gophers women's soccer team.

Photo: U of M, Christopher Mitchell

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She was in the middle of a two-day bus ride covering 11 hours. Her players were watching the Harry Potter movies -- one after the other. And still, there was no place Stefanie Golan would rather have been Tuesday afternoon.

Golan, the first-year head coach of the Gophers women's soccer team, was traveling with her team to the Big Ten tournament in Bloomington, Ind. After a somewhat uneven season, Minnesota landed as the No. 4 seed and will face Illinois -- a team it defeated 3-0 three weeks ago -- in Wednesday's 9:30 a.m. quarterfinals (available online on the Big Ten Digital Network).

"I'm definitely happy to be here," Golan said. "I like this team. They're showing a lot of resiliency through the course of the season -- the ability to grind."

Golan, 33, took over the program in late June after former coach Mikki Denney Wright resigned in order to spend more time with her family. Golan spent the previous three seasons as the women's head coach at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Suddenly, she was in a new environment here -- with not much time to adjust. She didn't get on the field with players for the first time until early August when practice began.

"It's tough when you come in during the summer and you spend the first day learning the players' names," Golan said. "But the players did a good job of keeping an open mind and not making decisions before we got started."

Predictably, a talented squad went through some early struggles. They were 5-3 in nonconference play and 2-3-1 through their first six Big Ten games. But the Gophers rallied with four victories in their final five regular-season conference games to earn the No. 4 seed this week. Taylor Uhl has been a major factor, scoring 19 of the team's 42 goals, while Golan also praised midfielder Katie Thyken's all-around game. They have helped put the Gophers in position to perhaps return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010.

"We definitely have to win the first game [in the Big Ten tournament]," Golan said in regards to the team's NCAA chances. "Beyond that, every win locks us in a little deeper. ... We're one of those bubble teams. We're either going to solidify that, or it's going to burst."

And either way, they are going to watch a lot of Harry Potter.

MICHAEL RAND

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