Crucial split keeps soccer alive in Big Ten tournament hunt

by Jabari Ritchie

Early in the second half of Sunday’s game at Wisconsin, Minnesota’s soccer team found itself dangerously close to virtual elimination from the Big Ten tournament.

After dropping a lead to Northwestern Friday with less than a minute remaining and losing in overtime, the Gophers started slow in Sunday’s crucial conference game. Then the Badgers broke a scoreless tie 55 minutes into the game with a penalty kick goal by Lauren Schmidt.

But Minnesota, which had scored just six times before Sunday and had not come back from behind this season, fought back to break a four-game losing streak and stay in the hunt for the conference tournament with a 2-1 overtime victory.

“It was unbelievable,” said sweeper Samantha Meyers, whose header past Badgers goalkeeper Kelly Conway won the game with four minutes left in overtime.

“The whole team was so excited after the game. Going into overtime we really wanted to win since we lost in overtime on Friday and we just made a pact that we were going to win this game and score.”

Forward Rachael Roth tied the score in the 73rd minute with her sixth goal of the season. Roth, who assisted Meyers’ goal with a free kick, has scored or assisted every Gophers goal of the year.

“We had to put everything on the line,” said Roth, whose goal came on a breakaway. “If we lost, that would basically be the end of our season… We had to play to win, so we couldn’t get down even though they scored.”

The win moves Minnesota into a three-way tie for seventh place in the Big Ten. The top eight teams in the conference play in the tournament, which the Gophers have never missed.

“This game determined a lot for us and everybody went in there knowing that,” defender Sarah FitzGerald said. “I think we were a little tired going into the game, but we came out on top and that’s what we needed to do.”

On Friday, Minnesota controlled most of its match with Northwestern. In the 68th minute, Roth scored on the Gophers’ first and only shot of the game.

Midfielder Alison Rackley, who also assisted Roth’s goal on Sunday, won a ball despite falling to the grass. Rackley pushed the ball forward, collected it in front of the net and shot into the left side of the net.

With about five minutes remaining, the Wildcats offense began to pressure the Gophers for the first time in the game. Katie Hertz headed the ball into the net with 27 seconds left.

Three minutes into overtime, an open Carolyn Hack shot just past Minnesota goalkeeper Julie Eibensteiner’s reach to give Northwestern a 2-1 win.