Soccer team warms up for NCAAs

by Jim Schortemeyer

It isn’t the promised land, but it will have to do for now.
With the Big Ten Tournament next weekend and the NCAA Tournament a week later, the Gophers soccer team’s upcoming matchups with New Mexico and UNLV have lost some of their luster.
The Rebels and the Lobos are certainly not top-notch opponents. Last week UNLV got drilled 5-0 by BYU and 4-0 by Utah. The Lobos, meanwhile, managed just their fourth win of the season Wednesday — against UNLV.
Minnesota head coach Sue Montagne acknowledges this weekend’s competition isn’t high caliber, but she knows her team can’t afford two losses if they hope to secure an NCAA bid.
“Those are games that we should win, and we need to win,” Montagne said. “If we lose those games, that’s going to kill us.”
If trends keep up, Friday’s game against the Rebels figures to go Minnesota’s way. The Rebels (8-9-1 overall) were recently shut out in four consecutive games.
They broke that streak Wednesday in a 3-2 overtime loss to New Mexico. And that’s saying something: The Lobos have won four games this season and are one of the worst teams in the 14-team WAC.
UNLV is a first-year team dominated by youth. The Rebels are on a five-game losing streak and rank near the bottom of the WAC in points scored and goals allowed.
Minnesota’s game Sunday against the Lobos figures to be equally exciting. New Mexico is a second-year program and boasts a 4-12-2 overall record. At one point this season, they were shut out in six consecutive games. Their defense is second to last, and their offense is tied for last in the WAC.
The Lobos have scored just 14 goals in the season. Minnesota sophomore forward Laurie Seidl alone has 14 goals.
Add in that Minnesota (11-5) has won its last four games, and there could be some dangerously high scoring over the weekend.
The offense has junior Nicole Lee and Seidl ready for this weekend. Lee went on a tear last Saturday, scoring three goals in 63 seconds.
But lately the Gophers haven’t needed many goals. They’ve allowed just 17 goals, thanks to a veteran defense with two seniors and a redshirt junior.
The Gophers were once in danger of missing the tournament but might have wrapped up a bid last weekend with its 2-1 win over SMU. At the time, the Mustangs were a bubble team to make the playoffs.
“Both of us were looking to get in, so it was a key game,” Montagne said.
On the strength of that win and a 1-0 victory against 24th-ranked Indiana, the Gophers feel they’re just now tapping their potential.
“We’re playing the way we should have all year,” defender Noelle Papenhausen said.
And that’s what has Big Ten coaches worried. Hoosiers coach Joe Kelley named Minnesota as his “dark horse” to win the tournament.
That’s bad news for him. Indiana will face Minnesota in next Friday’s first-round game.
“Minnesota is a very good team,” Kelley said. “They’re definitely one of the best teams we’ve played.”