The defense of Minnesota's soccer team went unnoticed last week at practice while the Gophers focused on offense.
However, the defense made its presence felt last weekend.
Twice in Friday's victory over Northwestern, defender Jen Cressman made game-saving stops.
The biggest came with about 19 minutes remaining when Gophers goaltender Karli Kopietz made an initial save to her right and watched as the ball bounced to the left.
As a Wildcats forward set up to score, Cressman came from the middle of the goalie box and blocked the shot.
It preserved a victory.
The defense did more than just make clutch saves. Nicki Burnie was physical and constant over the weekend. Hilary Stowell made safe choices with the ball. And the entire team played well together.
"There is not one person doing it all," Burnie said Friday. "We are all out there making things happen together. It was a great team effort."
Despite allowing three goals Sunday, Minnesota's defense again played strong.
The Gophers (5-5-1, 2-4 Big Ten) were pressed for most of the first half against Illinois, but the defense was quick to recover against the Illini's speedy forwards.
And while the offense appeared improved from earlier in the season, the team struggled to generate shots Sunday; Minnesota managed only four shots on goal.
Perhaps this week the Gophers should work on defense and see if it helps the offense.
With 20:31 remaining in the second half Sunday and the Gophers trailing 3-1, Minnesota pulled starting goaltender Kopietz.
The sophomore made seven saves and allowed three goals.
Kopietz's backup, Marni Prall, played the remainder of the half and made two saves.
Following the contest, coach Barbara Wickstrand said Prall has been playing well and is starting to command playing time.
"(Prall) is coming on strong right now," Wickstrand said. "This week is going to determine who starts next weekend."
Kopietz has been Minnesota's top goaltender for the last two seasons. She is considered one of the most athletic players on the team and is nearly 100 percent since offseason knee surgery.
Wickstrand has seen the same mistakes repeatedly from Kopietz and hopes this ignites the team's backstop.
Kopietz's numbers this season have been down but the Champlin, Minn., native still ranks in the top half of all Big Ten goalies with a .763 saves percentage while allowing 1.75 goals allowed per game.
Other than in goal, Wickstrand said she liked how the lineup looked.
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