Gophers beat Hawkeyes to notch first Big Ten win

Paul Cordes

After five consecutive losses against Big Ten opponents to open conference play, the Minnesota soccer team has its first victory.

The Gophers lost their fifth straight game on Friday to No. 10 Illinois 3-0, but were able to narrowly put away Iowa on Sunday, 1-0 in overtime.

Three first half goals proved far too much for Minnesota to overcome against the powerful Illini (8-5-0 overall, 4-1-0 Big Ten) team.

Coach Mikki Denney Wright was unavailable for comment, but assistant coach Kate Cortis said Illinois came out “guns blazing.”

“(Illinois) was so committed to putting numbers into the attack, they had a game plan and they executed it,” she said. “We couldn’t possess the ball to help ourselves out and we ended up on our heels.”

Illinois jumped out early, scoring its first goal in the seventh minute with the other two coming in the 26th and 36th minute. The Gophers struggled to hold back the Illini attackers the first 45 minutes.

During the second half though, Minnesota (7-6-1, 1-5-0) came out with a new fire and was able to keep Illinois scoreless. Sophomore midfielder Kaitlin Wagner said the team finally decided it was sick of losing and needed to step it up.

“After halftime, we decided that we didn’t want to get scored on again we stepped up and played a lot better,” she said. “Coach told us this

isn’t good enough and there was no way that we are going to win a game if we didn’t start playing like we wanted to be there.”

The Gophers’ revived defense kept Illinois quiet in the second half, but they themselves were unable to generate any goals. Cortis said there were a few opportunities to score, but none of the open looks for Minnesota were converted into points.

Minnesota’s offensive struggles followed them to Iowa City for a battle to stay out of last place in the Big Ten against the Hawkeyes (5-8-1, 0-5-0).

A rough first half ended 0-0. Redshirt sophomore Lindsey Dare said the team’s first-half play was poor but

they realized enough was enough.

“In the second half, similar to Illinois, we just came out and had some really amazing performances on the field,” Dare said. “We started laying wood, going nuts and we just played and played, and fought and fought.”

But once again, as the game clock expired, the Gophers found themselves in a familiar place, without a goal for the fifth time in conference play.

The frustration of the five-game losing streak, the 5-1 loss to Wisconsin last weekend

and the inability to score in the Big Ten, added up on Sunday to one goal by freshman midfielder Sara Clancy. The goal in the first minute of overtime gave Minnesota its first mark in the win column since Sept. 17.

Dare, who with her five saves recorded her fourth shutout this season, called the feeling of getting the first win “amazing.”

“I just feel like I can take deeper breaths of air now and I can finally breathe,” she said. “Everyone is going to sleep a lot better tonight.”

Wagner said she thought the team played extremely hard Sunday and built up enough confidence to get the win.

“A lot of people stepped up and did what they had to do today in order for us to get the win,” Wagner said. “It’s a great feeling to finally get one and hopefully we can turn the season around.”

It’s not technically too late for the Gophers to turn around their season. They’ll need to get four more wins to make the NCAA Tournament and they have five regular season games and the Big Ten Tournament left to do it.

Left on that schedule, though, is a top-25 team in Penn State and most likely top seed in the Big Ten Tournament if Minnesota gets a low seed.

Cortis said it’s good to get the win finally, but there is still a lot of season left to play.

“We can enjoy this win for 24 hours,” she said, “but then we have to come back out and keep building and prepare for Penn State and the rest of our season.”