Gophers one victory away from Big Ten final

Minnesota faces Nebraska in the Big Ten semifinal on Friday.

Defender Marisa Windingstad intercepts the ball at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 16. The Gophers defeated Northwestern 2-0.

Jack Rodgers

Defender Marisa Windingstad intercepts the ball at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 16. The Gophers defeated Northwestern 2-0.

Erik Nelson

After knocking off No. 25 Rutgers on Sunday, the Gophers are one victory away from the Big Ten final.

If Minnesota can accomplish the feat, it will be the team’s first trip to the game since the Gophers won the Big Ten tournament title at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium in 2016. Standing in Minnesota’s way is Nebraska, whom Minnesota defeated 1-0 in double overtime on Oct. 25, 2017. 

Minnesota did not play Nebraska this season. Head coach Stefanie Golan said she expects production throughout the lineup on Friday with Minnesota’s season on the line.

“Those ladies have worked their tails off all year,” Golan said. “They continue to fight [and] continue to believe. They did it against Rutgers. Hopefully, we can do it again against Nebraska.”

Nebraska is 7-6-0 against Minnesota since the teams first played each other in 1996. The teams faced each other once in the Big Ten tournament — the Huskers defeated the Gophers in the 2013 quarterfinals. 

Nebraska-native defenders Delaney Stekr and Marisa Windingstad have a chance to play against a team from their home state. Both grew up in Omaha, Nebraska.

Golan said Stekr and Windingstad’s familiarity with the program will help the team prepare to face the Huskers.

“As we start our prep for Nebraska, we’re going to lay out our system,” Golan said. “We’re going to talk about ways to exploit their system. They’ll have more insight on some of those players than what we have from watching them on film.”

Goalkeeper Maddie Nielsen is one reason why Minnesota is playing in the Big Ten semifinal. Nielsen made four saves in Minnesota’s victory over Rutgers on Sunday and six of her 10 victories this season have been shutouts. Her goals-against average is 1.08. 

“I thought Nielsen played her best [match] against Rutgers, and I thought that was huge,” Golan said. “You almost saw her mature right in front of your eyes.”

While Minnesota’s home record was 5-6-0, the Gophers are 5-2-1 in road matches including Sunday’s victory over Rutgers. Friday’s match will be at a neutral site: Grand Park in Westfield, Indiana. 

In the 2018 Big Ten tournament, three of the four lower seeds have won their quarterfinal matches. Like Minnesota, Nebraska pulled off an upset, defeating Ohio State in a penalty shootout 3-2 after a 0-0 draw. One of these teams will advance to play either No. 15 Penn State or Illinois in the Big Ten final on Sunday.

Windingstad said Minnesota wants to extend its season to honor the seniors.

“They’ve put so much time and effort into everything they’ve done,” Windingstad said. “We want them to leave this program on a high note.”