By Shane Frederick
---- — MANKATO — Molly McGough appears to have some job security with the Minnesota State women's soccer team. The junior goalkeeper has started all but one game in her college career and last season backstopped the best season in program history.
But that didn't prevent her from feeling a few butterflies in her stomach on Monday afternoon.
"I'm a junior, but I was as nervous as a little freshman when I came out here today," McGough said after the Mavericks' first practice of the season..
Minnesota State didn't lose much from last season. In fact, after compiling a 17-1-5 record and falling in a shootout in the national quarterfinals (technically a tie in the record book), one could argue that the Mavericks' biggest loss came after the season when coach Peter McGahey was lured away by a Division I opportunity at Central Michigan.
So along with high expectations, including a No. 6 national ranking, McGough and the Mavericks began the season with a new coach to impress.
Brian Bahl took the job in mid-May but got his first up-close-and-personal look at the team during two practices on Monday.
"He brought it to us today," McGough said. "We knew he'd come in hard. But I like that he came in with so much energy."
McGough and her teammates say Bahl's energy and enthusiasm rivals that of McGahey, who sometimes had his players turning cartwheels in practice.
"I can't stress how much this is going to be a fun season, said senior midfielder Tori Meinhardt, the Mavericks' top returning point scorer.
Bahl, who spent the last six seasons at Upper Iowa, takes over a team that won the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and the NCAA Division II Central Region championships last season. Even with the loss of a dozen letterwinners, he has no intention of lowering the bar this fall.
"I knew expectations were high, and I wanted that," Bahl said. "I wanted that challenge. ... I want to build on what Peter and Gretta (Arvesen, former MSU assistant) did here. Our goal is to win a national championship. ...
"There are some things in place here. There's a great family culture, but there's also a culture of winning and an extremely competitive culture. As a coach, that's a dream scenario."
Meinhardt said the coaching change changed none of the veteran players' expectations.
"We're still on the same page," she said. "It's still the same mentality with (Bahl). The returning players can see that, so a lot of our goals are the same."
The Mavericks went 14-0-1 in NSIC play last season. Their only blemish was a tie to Bahl's Upper Iowa team. Over the last three seasons, his teams went 1-0-2 against Minnesota State. He said his Peacocks played a similar style to Minnesota State, and that will continue.
"We'll still be a very high-pressure team, aggressive on both sides of the ball, fast-paced," he said. "It will be fun for the players to play and fun to watch, too."
Bahl and the Mavericks will test things out during an exhibition game against Macalester at 1 p.m. Sunday in Mankato. After two more preseason games on Aug. 30 and Sept. 1 in Topeka, Kan., Minnesota State will open the regular season on Sept. 6 when it hosts Truman State.
"I know it's going to be a smooth transition," McGough said. "He's going to build on what we have here already."