U soccer is worried about Big Ten repeat

Aaron Kirscht

Greek mythology told of the Fates, three goddesses who controlled all facets of human destiny — who lived, who died, who won and who lost — all with a simple smile.
The Gophers women’s soccer team had hoped some of those smiles would come their way in 1996. After all, this year’s team was expected to be even better than the 1995 Big Ten champs, who advanced to first round of the NCAA tournament.
Then came a demanding season-opening schedule and a pair of season-ending knee injuries. Well, so much for fate.
Now the Gophers sit at 7-3, which wouldn’t be so bad if their record didn’t include two conference losses to Penn State and Wisconsin, both of which remain undefeated in conference play.
The season is young, but even head coach Sue Montagne admits the team’s chances of going into the Big Ten tournament as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed are growing slim. “Having a high seed may be out of our hands because of our two losses,” she said. “But I think winning the Big Ten tournament is still within reach. I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t win the tournament.”
With eight games remaining on the regular season schedule, the season’s not over by any means. But for now, the Gophers are trying to get past their tough 3-1 loss to Wisconsin on Sunday.
Following the game, Montagne said she was embarrassed by the performance and questioned the character and focus of the team.
But while Montagne now says the embarrassment has worn off, she doesn’t regret her comments. “It’s a little bit easier (to deal with) now that I’m not standing in front of 1,400 fans having just lost a huge home game,” she said. “We did not play up to our potential at all. I don’t think we have all season.”
More than anything, Montagne mourns the heap of near-misses around the goal against Wisconsin — any one of which could have changed the face of the game.
Although several players had solid chances to score, the team struggled to put the ball away. This has been the story all season, but Montagne said reason behind the Wisconsin loss lies more with, “a series of mistakes … made by the whole team, not just certain players.
“We had some opportunities against Wisconsin, where it could have been a 3-3 game — easily,” Montagne said. “But the bottom line is that we didn’t do what we had to win and they did.”
Logic says that things should be different with Big Ten Player of the Year Jennifer Walek in the lineup, and Montagne is hesitant to disagree. “I don’t think there’s any question we’ve missed her tremendously,” she said. “We haven’t been able to put away the same number of goals since she’s been out.”
But the team can’t dwell on Walek’s absence, nor can they rely on leading scorer Jennifer McElmury to carry the load all season. McElmury craves the pressure, but Montagne worries that loading it on may be doing more harm than good.
“Wanting the pressure and actually having it are two different things,” she said. “Once you have it, you need to learn to deal with it and see if you can handle it.”
In the meantime, Montagne said the entire team has to step up and take more responsibility. “We just have to focus on winning solidly from here on out.”
The team didn’t practice on Monday or Tuesday, but will take time to meet and watch game film before resuming practice in the middle of the week.
Montagne said the timing couldn’t be better for the short vacation. “Some of us were really banged up and needed time to heal,” she said.
The Gophers should have a good chance to regroup against Minnesota-Duluth on Sunday. Minnesota beat the Bulldogs soundly last season, 9-0.