Gophers take Big Ten’s best record to Rhode Island for weekend tourney

Minnesota is 11-8-1 in road games under coach Mikki Denney Wright.

Despite its first loss of the season, Minnesota still has the best record in the Big Ten heading into this weekend.

The Gophers (3-1-0 overall) will travel to the Brown Classic in Providence, R.I., today through Sunday. They are the ninth-ranked team in the Great Lakes region, according the Soccer Buzz poll.

Minnesota opens the tournament against Army at 4 p.m. today. The Knights (2-2-0 overall) won the first two games of their season before falling to Rice and Columbia. Army is No. 12 in the Northeast Region, according to the latest Soccer Buzz poll.

The Gophers will have Saturday off before battling Brown (2-0-1 overall) Sunday at 11 a.m. The Bears opened the season with two wins before their 0-0 tie with 24th-ranked Boston University. Brown is unranked in the Soccer Buzz poll but is the 10th-ranked team in the Northeast Region according to the NSCAA/adidas poll.

“We’ve never played either of the teams so it’s a little of the unknown,” coach Mikki Denney Wright said. “I think that’s good.”

Minnesota will be coming off of its first lost of the season against then-21st-ranked Missouri, which moved up to 18th in the most recent polls. Sophomore midfielder Kaitlin Wagner believes the team needs to win these games in order to regain some confidence.

“They’re both pretty big (games),” she said. “Since we lost on Sunday, we’re going to need another confidence booster. We have to come back and prove ourselves to everyone.”

Proving themselves to everyone means winning a pair of games on the team’s first road trip – something Denney Wright said worries her a bit.

“Road travel worries me the most, just because you’ve got to teach players how to travel,” she said. “It’s totally different playing on the road than it is playing at home with all the support.”

The Gophers’ record on the road has improved greatly since the arrival of Denney Wright. In 2003, the year before she became coach, they won just one game on the road while losing six.

With Denney Wright at the helm, Minnesota went 5-5 away from home in 2004 and was 6-3-1 last season.

These road games could have significant postseason implications for the Gophers, according to redshirt freshman Elena Fruci.

“These games are very important this weekend,” Fruci said. “They both go to our record, which affects our final NCAA bid.”

Denney Wright also sees these two games as having a big impact on the Minnesota’s chances of making it to the NCAA Tournament in November.

“(Army and Brown are) both ranked regionally, so that’s why were going out there,” Denney Wright said. “It’s great for NCAA Tournament chances to get to play two ranked teams in a different region. So we have to prove ourselves that way.”

Even with the stiff competition, Fruci is optimistic about the Gophers’ chances of leaving Rhode Island with a pair of victories.

“I think if we come together as a team, find our strengths and use our strengths against them, we should be able to pull it out.”