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One-goal wins vault Gophers into second

Minnesota soccer coach Mikki Denney Wright said she knew she had a group of players that could turn around a struggling Gophers program.

She just didn’t know it would be this soon.

Minnesota (8-4-2, 5-1-0 Big Ten) completed its second straight weekend sweep, beating Iowa 1-0 on Friday and defeating Illinois 2-1 on Sunday, with both games played at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium in St. Paul.

The win against Illinois, which made it to the regional finals in the 2004 NCAA tournament, gave Minnesota sole possession of second place in the Big Ten conference, three points ahead of the third-place Illini.

Every conference game the Gophers have played has been decided by one goal.

“We’re relentless,” senior forward Becky Dellaria said. “We’re not giving up. We’re not letting teams get anything easily. And we’re finishing the clutch goal.”

The Gophers started slow on Sunday, as Illinois capitalized on a defensive mistake and took the lead just three minutes into the game.

Marti Desjarlais passed the ball in front of the Minnesota goal to Natasha Karniski, who lobbed a shot over the head of Gophers goalie Molly Schneider.

Some of the initial struggles may have been because of the absence of Kelsey Hood, who usually plays center midfield.

Hood was held out of the match because of a minor hip injury she suffered in Friday’s game against Iowa.

“It took them about 15 minutes to get in the flow,” Denney Wright said. “And then I thought we really started to get opportunities.”

Down 1-0 at halftime, Minnesota countered two minutes into the second half.

Clare Grimwood played a ball over the Illini defense that forward Nikki Jensen ran to, beating Illinois goalkeeper Lindsey Carstens to score her first career goal.

“It was amazing,” Jensen said. “It felt good to come off the bench and give the team a boost.”

Lindsey Schwartz gave Minnesota the lead four minutes later when she ripped a shot from well outside the penalty area that hit the side of the left goalpost and bounced into the goal.

It was all the Gophers defense needed to hang on to the win, shutting down every Illinois offensive opportunity.

“Every single kid that stepped onto the field today had one of their best games,” Denney Wright said. “They really bought into the philosophy and played as a unit and a team. Ö They deserved it.”

Friday’s win against Iowa was expected, but considered necessary in Minnesota’s bid for a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Although the Hawkeyes were clearly overmatched, they stayed within striking distance of the Gophers for the entire game.

Dellaria scored her fourth goal of the season on a breakaway in the first half for the game’s only goal.

Grimwood assisted on the play, increasing her team-leading total to seven, with two assists on the weekend.

Schneider made five saves in her sixth shutout of the season.

“We created some really fun attacking chances (Friday),” Denney Wright said. “There were moments when we were really, really good.

“When our team can hold shutouts against good teams Ö I think that says a lot about our program.”

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