U soccer faces foes, weather at home

by Aaron Kirscht

Football players have a reputation for being tough. But look closer: They wear pads, play only once a week and — here in Minnesota, anyway — have a big white Teflon dome over their heads.
The Gophers women’s soccer team (10-3 overall, 3-2 Big Ten), meanwhile, will have to handle not only a pair of difficult opponents but also some nasty weather.
Indiana (6-6, 2-3) and Ohio State (11-3, 3-2) visit Minnesota this weekend for games at the St. Paul Campus Soccer Field. And if local weather forecasters have guessed correctly, the teams will be accompanied by rain clouds and cold fronts — maybe even a few snow flurries.
No pads. No long pants. No dome. No problem?
“We’re from Minnesota,” Coach Sue Montagne said. “We’ve played in that stuff for years.”
No problem.
But even with the weather concerns shuffled aside, this might be a difficult weekend for the Gophers. Both teams will try to knock the Gophers out of their spot in the conference standings in search of at least a third seed in the Big Ten tournament.
“I think they’re both going to be tough, physical games,” Montagne said. “They’ve been that way in the past, and I think they’ll be that way again.”
Indiana is struggling with some injuries, Montagne said, but she believes the Hoosiers will play strong. Still, Indiana appears to be faltering as the season comes to an end, having lost games at Wisconsin and Northwestern last weekend by a combined score of 6-1.
On Sunday, Montagne expects Ohio State to play a high-pressure game. To counter the Buckeye attack, she says, Minnesota will have to play more of a ball-movement game — much like basketball’s fast break — with little dribbling and quick passing upfield.
The Gophers and Ohio State are tied for third in the Big Ten, and Sunday’s matchup is the last conference game for both teams. Before that game, however, Ohio State plays today at Penn State, the No. 2 team in the conference.
Two conference wins at Michigan State and Michigan have the Gophers prepared to make a run at a second consecutive Big Ten title.
“We had a lot of fun last weekend, and I think that’s what’s been missing,” Montagne said. “I think everyone’s ready to go.”
Montagne’s primary concern is that the Gophers “play our own game,” rather than switch styles to counter their opponents’ game plans. She said last weekend’s successes are evidence of the team’s ability to do so. And the wins, Montagne said, also signify a big emotional turnaround.
“We’re still climbing, still getting better,” Montagne said. “And the timing couldn’t be better. We know what we can accomplish, and we’re starting to gain some real confidence.”
The Gophers have been slow-starting all season, and the nasty weather won’t help. Rain tends to make games sloppy and less crisp, Montagne said. The ball slides around and takes funny bounces, and challenges players to keep their footing.
“But it all depends on the warm-up,” Montagne said. “It’s a mental thing. Are you going to deal with it or are you going to let it ruin your game?”
As the Gophers enter the final stretch of what’s been a long season, they don’t appear willing to let anything ruin their game. If Montagne has guessed correctly, the forecast is for a few more wins and continued good feelings all around.
“We’re starting to realize that we’re in good shape,” Montagne said. “We don’t need to panic.”