Rough Michigan weekend ahead for U

Jim Schortemeyer

After a trying homestand last weekend, the Minnesota women’s soccer team is heading to Michigan with its lingering hopes for a Big Ten Championship in tow.
The Gophers (5-3 overall, 1-2 in the Big Ten) will face Michigan State on Friday and Michigan on Sunday, and the regular season may be on the line for Minnesota, which dropped two games last weekend.
Those losses to Northwestern and Wisconsin leave the Gophers in seventh place in the Big Ten, while the Wildcats and Badgers are at the top with 4-0 records.
Friday’s competition might be exactly what the Gophers need, however, as the Spartans are 0-4 in the Big Ten. That’s the good news for Minnesota; the bad news is that three of Michigan State’s losses have come against the top three teams in the conference.
Minnesota freshman forward Alison Rackley, who ranks third on the team in total points, knows what to expect from the Spartans. Rackley, who is from Michigan, predicts a difficult homecoming.
“I think they have a lot of good players,” Rackley said. “We’re 1-2, so obviously we know we have to win this weekend.”
Rackley also mentioned that practice was a little different this week. A losing record in the Big Ten is a rarity for the Gophers, after all.
“We did some running at the end of practice, and basically we focused on picking up the speed of play,” Rackley said.
That extra training might come in handy this weekend. But if Minnesota doesn’t make it past the Spartans, the much-anticipated Michigan game might lose some more of its luster. Two weeks ago, this looked like a deciding game in the Big Ten title race, but that possibility changed in a hurry for both teams.
The Wolverines are in almost the exact same situation as the Gophers. Michigan was beaten by Northwestern and Wisconsin two weeks ago, and its record now stands at 1-2-1 in the Big Ten.
The losses bumped the Wolverines from the top-25 poll, after being ranked as high as No. 10. But with a victory last weekend against Ohio State and a tie with 7th-ranked Penn State, Michigan slid back into the rankings, landing in a tie for the 24th spot.
Both teams can claim a solid offensive attack. The Wolverines are set with Big Ten co-player of the week Jessica Limauro, a senior forward who scored all three of Michigan’s goals last weekend.
Minnesota counters with one of the most balanced attacks in the Big Ten. Junior Nicole Lee is tied with Limauro for the total points lead in the Big Ten, and sophomore Laurie Seidl is right behind them in third-place.
The Gophers are hoping to make up ground after last weekend’s crummy results. Though they played well against Northwestern, a couple of breakdowns broke the Gophers’ backs.
“It was just a lot of bad luck,” Rackley said. “We knew we should have won, so it was disappointing.”
Note: The Gophers went through practice without head coach Sue Montagne Thursday. Montagne was in Michigan all Thursday to do an in-home recruiting visit, before meeting up with the team at Michigan State last night.