The Gophers women’s soccer team, which reached the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament last season for the second time in three years, has its first preseason practice on Tuesday.

Minnesota, 14-6-3 overall, 4-4-2 in the Big Ten, returns five starters. They are goalie Cat Parkhill, defender Josie Solie, midfielders Shari Eckstrom and Marissa Price and forward Steph Brandt. A sixth starter, senior forward Tami Strahota, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in one of her knees playing soccer for the under-23 Woodbury team this summer and is out for the season.

A key addition is senior forward Alex Pafko, the team MVP for St. Cloud State the past two seasons. She transferred and is immediately eligible unless the Gophers decide to redshirt her.

Brandt and Eckstrom both scored seven goals last season and four of Brandt's goals were game-winners. A third returning scorer from the top six in 2010 is Allie Phillips who had four goals and one assist for nine points.

The Gophers will have a scrimmage on Wednesday. They will play an exhibition game against North Dakota State on Aug. 12. Their home opener is against South Dakota State on Aug. 21.

Minnesota had a 11-game unbeaten streak (9-0-2) last season, but members of the senior class accounted for half the team's scoring. The Gophers climbed as high as No. 12 in the national polls and finished No. 21 in the final women's soccer coaches national [NSCAA] poll.