U messes with Texas

by Jim Schortemeyer

A quick trip to the St. Paul Campus soccer field will tell you what the grounds crew thinks of the Minnesota women’s soccer team.
With the regular season nearly over and the team’s chances for post-season play wiped out, the stands have been dismantled, a tent is down and trailers have been pulled off.
But the Gophers are far from done.
Minnesota will be deep in the heart of Texas this weekend for games against Southern Methodist and Texas Christian. And despite their disheveled home and partially broken season, the Gophers are upbeat for this weekend’s games.
Junior Erika Kruse said the close-knit team has spent its off-time together, and that usually means good things for the Gophers.
“When we lose, we tend to go our separate ways,” Kruse said. “But when we’re winning we spend more time together.”
The team had Monday and Tuesday off after sweeping Illinois and Indiana last weekend. Players returned to practice Wednesday feeling loose and excited for the weekend series.
“You can tell?” sophomore Erin Holland asked. “Everybody’s pretty pumped coming off of last weekend.”
There are still some kinks in the Minnesota system, however. In the last 20 minutes of the Illinois game, the Gophers were outshot and outplayed by the Illini, something of which players and coaches are keenly aware.
“It’s key that we play 90 minutes,” Kruse said. “We peak and then in the last 20 minutes we decline. Even in practice it’s apparent.”
Texas Christian finished 2-3 in the Mountain Division of the Western Athletic Conference, and their defense is ranked 13th out of 14 teams.
That bodes well for a Minnesota offense that’s been dominant the last two games. Minnesota coach Sue Montagne said she was especially happy with the offense’s role in the 3-1 win over Illinois on Sunday.
“It was nice to finally score more than one goal,” Montagne said. “That gives us some of that confidence we need.”
That said, Montagne is wary of the Frogs, who Minnesota beat 1-0 the last time they met in 1995.
“They play in a very tough conference and it should be a good game,” Montagne said.
Sunday’s game should present more of a challenge for Minnesota, in the form of Southern Methodist. The Mustangs lead the Mountain Division with a 4-1 record and are ranked in the top 10 of their region.
SMU’s out-of-conference record, meanwhile, is a paltry 4-6 after playing some of the better teams in the country — including losses to Florida, Stanford and Baylor.
Defense is the name of the Mustangs’ game. They rank fourth in the WAC and are led by a core of veteran defenders. Conversely, SMU’s offense has struggled. The Mustangs have no one in the top-20 scoring leaders in the WAC.
The only factor squarely against the Gophers is the schedule. Minnesota is playing its first Saturday-Sunday games, and is beginning a four-game road trip before the Big Ten Tournament.
Ordinarily, finishing a season with four consecutive road games would be a detriment, but Montagne and the Gophers have a nearly identical record on the road (4-2) as at home (5-3).
“It’s tough playing two weekends on the road and then having the Big Ten Tournament,” Montagne said. “But that’s why we gave them (Monday and Tuesday) off. Hopefully they’ll be refreshed and ready for the rest of the season.”