The dream was simple: a weekend that would capture the imagination of soccer fans across the Midwest.
Implementation was the hard part.
For years at an annual soccer coaches’ conference in mid-December, Big Ten women’s coaches would debate creating a rivalry with another strong conference.
Well, the wait is almost over.
Starting in 2005, the Big Ten and Big 12 conferences will team up to form a Big Ten-Big 12 Challenge.
Minnesota will play at Texas Tech and Baylor in the 2005 season. In 2006, Iowa State and Missouri will visit the Twin Cities.
The contests are scheduled to take place in early September.
“We wanted a weekend that would grab the spotlight,” said Purdue soccer coach Robert Klatte, who spearheaded the efforts to start the competition. “It was hard getting everyone to commit, but the general response I have heard is positive.”
Not all the Big Ten or Big 12 schools will be participating in the tournament. Klatte said Ohio State and Colorado previously committed to other tournaments and will not play.
In addition, Kansas State does not field a soccer team.
The hope for this challenge is to create more than just a rivalry.
“It is a chance to play some teams you don’t normally see,” Klatte said. “It also gives all the teams the opportunity to create a strength of schedule with out-of-conference opponents.”
Gophers coach Barbara Wickstrand hopes the challenge succeeds and relishes the opportunity to play some of the top teams in the Big 12.
For example, Nebraska and Texas A&M have finished no lower than third since the Big 12 soccer conference was established in 1996. They have combined for 15 NCAA tournament appearances.
“We want to play top-10-caliber teams,” Wickstrand said. “I think the tournament will turn out very well.”
Wickstrand’s sentiment is similar to the general reaction of the other coaches involved.
Klatte, whose team travels to Minneapolis to face the Gophers on Friday at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium in the Big Ten opener, has also heard nothing but positive remarks. He expects the tournament to continue after the trial period ends in 2006.
“It was a great idea and we have finally put it into place,” the Boilermakers fifth-year coach said. “It is going to be fantastic.”
A day of rest
Wickstrand went to the mall and caught up on some bills. Sophomore Becky Dellaria planned to enjoy the day by resting.
With no scheduled game Sunday, the Gophers players and coaches were able to take the day off.
“It will be nice to sit around,” Dellaria said after Minnesota beat Western Illinois 3-0 last Friday.
The team normally does not gather Mondays, but this week was an exception. The Gophers met to review game film.
Sophomore defender Nicki Burnie will not appeal her suspension and will sit out Friday’s game against Purdue.
Burnie received a red card late in the second half for hitting a Western Illinois player with an elbow.
“There is nothing we can do,” Wickstrand said. “She is out.”
Wickstrand will use the versatile Andrea Neuman in an increased role to replace the lost defender.
Freshman Haley Lentsch failed to notch a goal against Western Illinois last Friday, ending a streak of four goals in as many games to start the season.
The record for consecutive matches with a goal is six, set by Jennifer McElmury in 1997.
The last winless team in the Big Ten has risen. Michigan defeated Iowa State 4-2 on Sunday to earn its first victory of the season.