Uhl, Strahota lead Gophers past Illinois

Minnesota won its first game in two weeks Friday at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.

Betsy Helfand

A couple of weeks ago, redshirt senior defensemen Tamara Strahota thought her season — and Gophers career — might be over when she suffered a lower-leg injury.

On Friday, Strahota returned triumphantly after missing just two games and scored in the Gophers’ 3-0 win over Illinois.

“I’m like the happiest person in the world right now,” Strahota said after the win.

Strahota scored Minnesota’s second goal of the game and her first of the season at the 57:30 mark.

The goal came from an awkward angle and sailed up and beyond Steph Panozzo, the Illini’s goalie, and just found the net near the far post.

“Her goal [came from a] horrible angle, but if you don’t shoot it, it’s not going in,” head coach Stefanie Golan said.

Strahota played forward Friday night, and she said she had been practicing with the forwards since she was cleared to play Tuesday.

“Having Tam on the field, regardless of where it is — Tam’s a presence,” Golan said.

Golan said that Strahota is “a game at a time” and playing her at forward puts less pressure on her.

“Up there you have a lot of liberty to make a lot of mistakes,” Golan said. “In the back, if something happens and you make a mistake, you get punished for it. So we wanted to give her an opportunity to be in a position where she could have the most success.”

Strahota played forward during her freshman and sophomore years.

Sophomore forward Taylor Uhl said she was happy to be attacking with Strahota. Uhl assisted on Strahota’s goal.

Uhl also scored Minnesota’s other two goals in the game. Her first goal came in the 27th minute when she dribbled around multiple Illinois players before firing the ball into the corner of the goal.

“I think I’ve been shooting sometimes too early when I can take another step, so I’ve been focusing on dribbling all the way to the net,” Uhl said.

Uhl was pulled right after the goal. Golan said it had been a while since Uhl had been pulled that early, but Uhl had been struggling and the time for her to come out was set prior to the goal.

Golan said the biggest difference for Uhl between the first and second half was her effort.

“She came out in the second half with something to prove,” Golan said. “She came out with a lot of fire in the second half.”

Uhl entered Big Ten play leading the nation in goals and points, but her production was down for a while.

Lately, though, Uhl has been returning to her scoring ways and finding the back of the net more.

Strahota, a captain, said she had pulled Uhl aside and given her a pep talk after some of her struggles. Strahota said Uhl on Friday “got out of her head a little bit and just let everything go, which helped her.”

Golan called the win “ginormous” for the Gophers’ Big Ten tournament chances.

The team will look to improve those chances Sunday at senior day against Northwestern.