Soccer swan song

SOECharlesHallmansquareThere are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2016-17 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players.

This week: soccer players Simone Kolander and Rashida Beal

Seniors Simone Kolander and Rashida Beal both expect to graduate in December. Both have been featured in previous Gopher 100 articles virtually each season of their four-year collegiate soccer careers.

“I think one of the key pieces about both of them is the way they have matured over the course of their four years,” said U of M Head Coach Stefanie Golan to the MSR on the two soccer players after their Nov. 4 Big Ten tournament semifinals win over Michigan.

Simone Kolander (l) and Rashida Beal
Simone Kolander (l) and Rashida Beal (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

The Gophers not only won the conference regular season title, their first since 2008, but also their first league tournament title since 1995 on their home field on the St. Paul campus. Minnesota was one of seven Big Ten teams selected to this year’s 64-team NCAA soccer field, finishing eighth in the final National Soccer Coaches Association of America regular season poll, the highest in program history.

“It’s been so awesome to play [and win] a Big Ten championship on our own field,” exclaimed Kolander. “It’s exciting.”

Minnesota led the Big Ten in goals, goals per game, assists and assists per game, shots and points. The Gopher defense ranked second in the conference in fewest goals allowed, lowest goals-against average and total shutouts, only allowing three goals in league play.

The team also raked in several individual honors as well, such as Golan as coach of the year. Kolander was named Big Ten Forward of the Year for the second straight season. Beal became the first Minnesota player since 2008 to win a defensive individual honor when she won Big Ten Defender of the Year.

“They put in the work every day — on the field, in the classroom, and they give back in the community,” observed Golan on Kolander and Beal. “To see them get recognized in a major way by the Big Ten, with what each of them has given to the program, was an awesome feeling.”

“I definitely would not have predicted this after our freshman year,” recalled Beal, a psychology major. “The team has just grown and changed so much over the course of the time we’ve been here. It’s really cool to see our program advance so much in the four years we’ve been here.”

“It’s crazy how fast it goes,” added Kolander, a communication studies major from Lakeville, Minn. “I remember just being here in my freshman year. It goes so fast.”

Besides the individual honors, both women proudly see themselves as team players. “Everybody is looking for each other to make the next best pass,” noted Kolander, who led the Big Ten in points and points per game and was second in total goals and total shots. “We have so many great players on the team, so many different people who can score.”

On her award, Beal said, “I reflected on it for a few hours, then I put it past me and refocused on upcoming things.” The Germantown, Wisconsin native is considered the team’s quickest player, and her pre-game ritual includes drinking beet juice. “I only take it before games,” she admitted. “I don’t take it before practice or [drink it] daily. It really helps my breathing” during plat.

Last weekend, however, the two women’s Gopher careers came to an end after the team lost to N.C. State in a shootout in the first round of the NCAAs at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. After a 0-0 tie, a penalty kick shootout was used to determine the winner; the visitors won it 4-2 and advanced.

Finally, following graduation both Kolander and Beal hope to further their soccer careers in the pros. “I am planning to join the draft and see how that goes,” said Beal. “If that ends up not working out, then I’ll try opportunities overseas.”

“I love them,” said Golan of her departing players.

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.