Rested and refreshed after what amounts to its bye-week, the No. 16 Minnesota womenâÄôs soccer team returns from a ten-day break on Sunday to host Purdue at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium at 2 p.m. Among other things, the Gophers have used their hiatus, by far the longest of the season, to nurse minor injuries and aching muscles. But most importantly, theyâÄôve worked to rebound from a 1-0 loss to Wisconsin that snapped an 11-game unbeaten streak, MinnesotaâÄôs longest since 1997.
Entering the 2010-11 season, the Minnesota menâÄôs hockey comes without its usual sheen. For the first time in 10 years, the Gophers begin the season ranked outside the Top 10 nationally; their most recent memory is the programâÄôs first losing season since 1998; and they havenâÄôt made the NCAA tournament in two years. It stands to reason, then, that Minnesota circa 2010 isnâÄôt concerned with flashiness. ItâÄôs all about starting strong âÄî much stronger than last season when the Gophers lost and were shut out in three of their first four games âÄî and their chance to do so is here.
Perhaps tempered by memories of last season, a cautious optimism permeated comments after the Minnesota menâÄôs hockey team made easy work of British Columbia on Sunday night, scoring four goals in the first period on the way to a 6-0 exhibition win. After all, the Gophers similarly dominated the Thunderbirds 6-1 a year ago and then opened its regular season the following weekend with a 4-0 loss to North Dakota.
All it takes is a momentary lapse to decide a game. It really doesnâÄôt matter if one team takes 14 shots to the other teamâÄôs three and put four times as many on goal. Because Thursday night, in the 57th minute, Wisconsin converted its lone shot on goal, Minnesota converted none, and the 15th-ranked Gophers womenâÄôs soccer teamâÄôs 11-game unbeaten streak skidded to a halt, 1-0, at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. âÄúOur composure on the ball was off,âÄù head coach Mikki Denney Wright said after the game. âÄúWe were frazzled in front of the goal; we didnâÄôt make the right decisions.âÄù
Psychologists have argued in recent years that proximity breeds friendship, perhaps much more than we realize or would like to admit. Odds are that a neighbor will become a close acquaintance before someone that lives across town. But in the sports world, proximity fosters an entirely different form of closeness âÄî fierce rivalries. The spoils may not be Paul BunyanâÄôs Axe, but itâÄôs a border battle nonetheless. Carrying identical Big Ten records, the 15th-ranked Minnesota womenâÄôs soccer team and Wisconsin meet tonight at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.
With a goal and three assists between them in the past two weeks, Steph Brandt and MacKenzie Misel have earned back-to-back Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. To have players from the same team win consecutive weekly awards is a rare feat, considering the parity throughout the conference. But beyond the recognition from outside the program, it speaks to a larger trend inside Gophers womenâÄôs soccer: freshmen stepping in and making an immediate impact.
The crowd at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium was getting restless. Three days earlier, the 18th-ranked Minnesota womenâÄôs soccer team had opened its Big Ten schedule with a 1-1 draw at Iowa, unable to turn fourteen corners and seven shots on target into more than one goal.
The Gophers womenâÄôs soccer team knows what itâÄôs like to get up for a big opponent. They already knocked off a pair of nationally ranked teams in 2010, each win a potentially critical step on the path back to the NCAA tournament. But thanks to an 8-1-1 record in early season games, the Gophers are ranked 18th in the country by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America, higher than any other conference team. For the time being, the tables are turned; itâÄôs Minnesota with the target on its back.
A word of advice to Gophers opponents âÄì if youâÄôre going to score, it better end the game. Apart from an overtime, golden goal loss to then-No. 4 Notre Dame, the Minnesota womenâÄôs soccer team has trailed for all of six minutes in 10 games in 2010. Thursday night against 20th-ranked South Carolina, it was behind for nearly five whole minutes. But then, the Gophers leveled the score, bagged two more before halftime and never looked back on their way to a 3-1 road win. It was their second defeat of a ranked opponent this season.
Pop quiz: Start with 10 games, put seven on the road and three against top-20 opponents, and what do you have? Answer: The Minnesota womenâÄôs soccer teamâÄôs non-conference schedule. It also happens to be a schedule the Gophers (6-1-1 overall) have run through with just one loss âÄî in overtime to then-No. 4 Notre Dame âÄî and a six-game win streak that included a 2-1 upset of then-No. 14 San Diego.
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