A new season: Woodbury players take new roles with Gophers soccer

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Woodbury's Emily Heslin and Maddie Gaffney are a year older and taking on new roles with the University of Minnesota women's soccer team this season.

And they hope to help recreate the same success last fall when the Gophers won a pair of Big Ten titles. Minnesota won the Big Ten regular season co-championship after finishing with a conference record of 7-1-3, along with Penn State and Northwestern. Minnesota then won the Big Ten tournament title, ending the run with a 2-1 decision against Rutgers on Nov. 6 in Minnesota.

Heslin, who graduated from Hill-Murray, does not play a position that often gets her on the scoring sheet. But the defensive midfielder netted the game-winning goal, her first of the year, in the Big Ten championship game against Rutgers, breaking a 1-1 tie in the 84th minute with a goal scored just outside the 18-yard box.

"It has kind of been a joke all year, like, 'Oh, Find Heslin on top of the 18,'" she said. "I'm pretty good at shooting the ball. Finally, they did it, and I scored.'"

The season ended in disappointment, however, as the Gophers lost on penalty kicks to North Carolina State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The game, played at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium in Minnesota on Nov. 12, was tied 0-0 after two overtimes when it came down to penalty kicks.

"It was a bummer that it ended as quickly as it did, in the tournament with PKs," said Heslin, who as a junior was named a team captain for this fall's season. "But I loved the senior class. It was so hard to say goodbye to them."

During her high school career, Heslin played two seasons of high school soccer at East Ridge, including in her sophomore year while she was transferring to Hill-Murray. She took a year off from high school play as a junior year due to a rules conflict with her club team, but she was able to play at Hill-Murray her senior year.

After growing up going to private schools, Heslin made the switch to Hill-Murray for the smaller class sizes and educational opportunities.

"I went to East Ridge where it was like my grade was 500 people," Heslin said. "It was just too big. I wanted more of a community feel. I liked the religious aspect of school, so I decided to transfer and loved it."

Woodbury High School graduate Gaffney has spent her summer working as an intern with the University of Minnesota's strength and conditioning program. As a kinesiology major, Gaffney has considered physical therapy as a future career.

"I decided to do this internship because, one, it was really accessible with my strength coach and two, because the U of M strength and conditioning program is really good," Gaffney said. "It would look good for physical therapy if I continue to go that route."

Gaffney hopes the internship can help her become a better teammate as she enters her senior year with the women's soccer team.

"I hope that people try to respect me more and I can become more of a leader, and they will listen to me," she said.

Last fall, the Gophers as a team allowed just three goals in Big Ten play, the fewest in the league, while also scoring the most goals in the conference with 23. A deep roster helped the defensive group maintain their pressure on opposing teams.

"I think all the players that were on the field or came onto it, they always contributed," Heslin said. "There was no drop-off when new players came onto the field. Obviously, soccer is a long game. So having fresh legs that could come out, and the level wouldn't drop, was super helpful."

With Gaffney being a defender and Heslin a midfielder, the Woodbury players do not expect much to change on the defensive side of the ball this season.

"We pride ourselves on our defense, so I think it will be good," Gaffney said.