On a bright Sunday afternoon at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium, the Gophers took down a soccer giant.
Minnesota (5-4-0, 1-1-0) defeated No. 12 Northwestern (6-1-2, 0-1-1) 2-0. It was Minnesota's first home match and win against Northwestern since Oct. 14, 2012, and first win against a ranked opponent since 2015.
Head coach Stefanie Golan said Minnesota's win was a team effort.
"They gritted through, they fought and then closed out the game well," Golan said. "We've been waiting to play [Northwestern] at home."
Goalkeeper Maddie Nielsen stopped a Northwestern penalty kick in the eighth minute. After Minnesota was called for a handball, Northwestern midfielder Marisa Viggiano took the kick, but Nielsen dove to her right and made the save.
The Gophers earned a penalty kick of their own in the 25th minute. Forward April Bockin converted the penalty, giving the Gophers a 1-0 lead. It was Bockin's third goal of the season.
Nielsen said Bockin's goal magnified her save.
"It made my PK save 10 times better," Nielsen said. "It shows that we're Gophers — we can do anything. That brought up everyone's energy."
In the 71st minute, forward Megan Gray crossed the ball to midfielder TJ McKendrick. McKendrick headed the ball past Wildcats goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood into the net. It was McKendrick's first career goal. Midfielder Molly Fiedler recorded a secondary assist.
McKendrick said the goal felt like something she would execute in practice.
"It felt normal and it went right where I wanted it to go," McKendrick said. "It's good to finally have the [first] goal down. Hopefully, more to come."
Nielsen made four saves and earned her fifth win and second shutout of the season.
Bockin said Minnesota's win will improve the team's confidence going forward.
"That's huge for us," Bockin said. "Going into the Big Ten season, we dropped a game on Friday, which wasn't great. To respond like this against a high-ranked team gives us good momentum going into our Thursday-Sunday matchup against the Michigan schools next week."
Gophers fall to Illinois 2-0 on Senior Night
The atmosphere at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium at the start of Friday night was celebratory. Minnesota honored its five seniors; Bockin, Fiedler, Maddie Castro, Emily Heslin and Emily Peterson before its match against Illinois.
By the end of the night, the atmosphere was bittersweet. Illinois (6-3-0, 1-1-0) defeated Minnesota 2-0, scoring both of its goals off of corner kicks.
In the 13th minute, Illini midfielder Arianna Veland scored the first goal of the match after heading the ball past Nielsen. Midfielder Hope Breslin recorded an assist. Veland scored again in the 54th minute. Midfielder Katie Murray crossed the ball towards Veland, who headed the ball past Nielsen.
Defender Marisa Windingstad said Minnesota wasn't on the same page on set pieces.
"Unfortunately, we weren't marking tight enough in the box or communicating as well as we needed to," Windingstad said.
Golan said Minnesota needs to improve on offensive corner kicks.
"We need to do better with those," Golan said. "If we can get dangerous on set pieces on the opposite end, it makes up for our lack of taking care of those on the defensive end."
The Gophers' next match will be on Thursday against Michigan State (5-2-2, 0-1-1) at the DeMartin Soccer Complex in East Lansing, Michigan. It is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.