The Big Ten is teaching the young Minnesota squad some tough lessons this season, and the most difficult lesson came this weekend against conference co-leaders Indiana and Purdue.
The Gophers (6-6-1 overall, 2-3 Big Ten) entered the weekend having lost 1-0 to Illinois after displaying brilliant defense against a top-tier conference team.
when: 7 p.m., Friday
where: Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium
The schedule proved even more difficult this weekend as Minnesota lost 4-2 to the No. 25 Hoosiers (11-1-2 overall, 5-0-1 Big Ten) Friday night and 3-1 Sunday afternoon to the No. 8 Boilermakers (13-1-2 overall, 5-0-1 Big Ten).
The Gophers started five freshmen and have three playing the defense. Their inexperience showed this weekend as Indiana and Purdue combined to score on three set pieces.
"We pride ourselves on defending set pieces, and we can defend better," junior midfielder Kaitlin Wagner said.
Communication between the goalkeeper and the defense broke down at times this weekend, Wagner said.
Slow starts plagued Minnesota this weekend as the Hoosiers and Boilermakers scored quickly in the game.
Indiana scored in the sixth minute of play Friday when Kristin Arnold fired a rocket from 20 yards out to the upper corner of the goal.
The Hoosiers added a goal in the 43rd minute when Jocelyn Moses tapped the ball past sophomore goalkeeper Chelsey Turner after a free kick.
Indiana added two more goals in the second half to extend their lead to 4-0, but the Gophers showed resilience and rallied for two goals before falling 4-2.
Sunday looked like more of the same for Minnesota as Purdue grabbed a quick lead when they scored off a corner kick 41 seconds into the match.
The Boilermakers added another goal before halftime at the 33rd minute when Jessica Okoroafo scored from inside the box on a two-on-one play to take a 2-0 advantage.
The Gophers battled back in the second half and showed improved play when they scored two minutes in as freshman Katie Bethke took a ball from fellow freshman Katie Shelander and fired from 10 yards out to draw the game to 2-1.
Purdue, however, added a goal off a counterattack and tallied the game's final score for a 3-1 finish.
Minnesota has played better in the second half all season, and this weekend proved no different.
"We came out in the second half scoring goals and dominating portions of the game," senior Hailey McCarthy said.
Playing from behind comes as a rare situation for the Gophers but coach Mikki Denney Wright saw encouragement in the loss.
"We're a little inexperienced, but we played great in the second half. Purdue didn't have a shot for an extended period of time," she said.
McCarthy felt the losses taught the younger members of the team about the Big Ten style of play.
"The older people know what it's like playing Purdue. The pace of play is a tough adjustment, it's a lot quicker. The underclassmen now know what the Big Ten is all about," she said.
The Gophers will return home this weekend for another set of difficult games against Ohio State and Penn State.
"This is definitely hard, but I've been through worse," McCarthy said. "We know we can rebound."
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