U soccer loses at Penn State

Aaron Kirscht

Every season has its share of tough losses, but the Gophers women’s soccer team was trying desperately to avoid one Tuesday at unranked Penn State.
The road trip is historically one of the season’s toughest; not only is Penn State a much-improved team, but also the travel itinerary includes a long flight and a three-hour haul by bus.
Less than a year ago, the Gophers were able to escape the hidden confines of University Park, Pa., with a 2-0 win. This year, however, would be different: as the Nittany Lions handed Minnesota their first Big Ten loss of the season, 3-2 in overtime.
The Gophers again proved to be slow starters, putting up a scoreless first half for the fifth time in eight games. Meanwhile, Penn State built a 2-0 lead.
Continuing another season-long trend, Minnesota staged a late comeback, scoring two goals in the last 20 minutes of regulation to tie the game. But their luck ran out, along with the time clock. Penn State held on for a tight victory, knocking in the game-winning goal at the 106-minute mark.
The loss dropped the Gophers to 6-2 overall, 0-1 in conference play. Penn State, after finishing third last year behind Minnesota and Wisconsin, sits atop the Big Ten at 5-0-1.
Minnesota dropped to No. 14 in the recent Soccer America Magazine Top 20 poll, while the previously unranked Lions leapfrogged the Gophers to No. 13.
But Montagne says that although she expected Penn State to be a good team this season, its record may not be representative of things to come. Nevertheless, Penn State came up big in its first game against a nationally ranked opponent.
The game, however, was not without positives for the Gophers. The team played well at times, Montagne said, controlling the tempo throughout much of the game. And freshman Nicole Lee carried the load for Minnesota, scoring her fifth and sixth goals of the young season. She now lies one point behind Jennifer McElmury for the team lead, with 16.
“We had a couple of opportunities (to win the game),” Montagne said, referring to a trio of point-blank shots by McElmury.
A great save by Penn State goalie Dara Christante stifled McElmury the first time, but she did herself in on her second scoring opportunity. As she went up to volley in a corner kick, McElmury “just didn’t get it all,” Montagne said. “She was wide open out there.”
The Gophers would fall short yet again, as McElmury’s trigger foot was kicked from behind just as she prepared to tap in a ball flailing in front of the goal.
But Minnesota will have two chances to improve on their donut of a conference record this weekend, with games against Northwestern (4-2, 0-1) on Friday and Wisconsin (6-2-1, 1-0) on Sunday. Both matches will be held at the St. Paul Campus Soccer Field.
Northwestern, which finished 7th (out of eight teams) last season, lost its Big Ten opener to Wisconsin 3-0. The Wildcats have failed to beat Minnesota in two previous tries, with the Gophers pounding out a 4-0 victory in their last meeting.
Wisconsin, however, is another story. In only three seasons of play, the Gophers managed to build an intense — but friendly, Montagne says — rivalry with their state neighbors.
As they enter their fourth season of competition the Gophers promise to battle Wisconsin again for the conference title. Minnesota leads the series with Wisconsin 3-2, but the Badgers got in the last word — make that a shout — with their 1-0 victory over the Gophers in the first round of the 1995 NCAA tournament.
“It’s going to be a great battle,” Montagne said. “It always is.” Should fans expect another standoff, like in the last two contests? “I would think so,” she said. “I don’t know what the score is going to end up being, but it’s going to be tight.”