The Gophers soccer team enter their final game of the regular season ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten, and though the team may have a fruitful postseason ahead, all that is irrelevant right now.
“We’re just asking our players to focus just on this one game and to finish out our regular season very strong,” Gophers head coach Mikki Denney Wright said. “All we’re focused on is ‘beat Iowa.’ After that we can focus on what’s beyond.”
Minnesota (17 -2-0 Overall, 7-2-0 Big Ten) will take on Iowa at 7 p.m. Friday in Iowa City.
The Hawkeyes (9-9 -1, 3-5-1) have had a rollercoaster season. The team began the year with a 4-0 win over Drake, and since the beginning of October it has garnered big 1-0 upsets against both Indiana and Illinois. However, in recent weeks Iowa had dropped close decisions to a variety of Big Ten opponents, including Purdue and Ohio State.
Gophers forward Tamara Strahota said the team’s unpredictable performance may pose a challenge for the Gophers.
“We don’t really know what to expect,” she said.
Despite a shaky performance record, Iowa has two goal scorers among the top 10 in the conference. Freshman forward Alyssa Cosnek has tallied eight goals this season for the Hawkeyes, while fellow forward Keli McLaughlin has posted seven goals for the team.
“We know they’re going to bring it,” Denney Wright said. “They’re going to be dangerous. We’re going to have to be very well organized.”
No one stands out so obviously for the Gophers. The team’s 33 goals this season have been scored by 11 different players.
Forward Lindsey Schwartz leads the team in goals with six. Clare Grimwood , who has been absent from the scorecard recently, was named this week’s Big Ten Player of the Week for her stellar performance last weekend.
Sophomore midfielder Katie Shelander said the strength of Iowa’s attack on paper will be the least of her concerns.
“We’ll just work our hardest and not even look at their stats and just take it as it comes,” she said.
Strahota said her focus this weekend will be to use this game as prep for what the team needs to work on heading into the postseason.
“We know we’re in the Big Ten [tournament]. We know we’re in the NCAAs,” she said. “It’s just kind of like ‘let’s get another win and let’s keep practicing.’ ”
A force to be reckoned with
There’s no doubt this team has been steadily gathering momentum for a postseason rush.
The team has suffered only two losses since entering the conference season, and in both losses the Gophers dominated offensively.
In the team’s Sept. 26 loss to Michigan State, Minnesota outshot the Spartans 16-7 and forced seven corner kicks.
“Our whole season should be a statement,” Denny Wright said. “They’ve had good performance, after good performance, after good performance. We’re just encouraging them to continue to do that through the last game.”
Every team should be playing at its peak right now, she said, and giving the players some extra time off this week should put them in their best shape.
For the players, a win Friday will be the perfect cap to a tremendous season and force teams to take a second look at the Gophers as the postseason gets underway.
“We’re a team that’s unstoppable,” Strahota said. “You need to work hard 90 minutes to be able to beat us.”
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