Gophers see positives in defeat

by Bob Wothe

While Minnesota’s soccer team showed how far it still has to come in Friday night’s loss to Ohio State, the team showed the potential coach Mikki Denney Wright has seen all season in a hard-fought loss to Penn State on Sunday.

In a game where they ultimately clinched their seventh-straight Big Ten title, the No. 3 Lions (13-1-1, 9-0-0 Big Ten) had all they could handle from the Gophers (5-10-0, 1-8-0 Big Ten) before closing out the 2-0 win.

“It was like night and day,” Denney Wright said, comparing the weekend’s games. “We couldn’t even string three passes together Friday, but Sunday we came out and really just executed our soccer.”

The Gophers started the game strong against the Lions, as sophomore forward Haley Lentsch almost put the Gophers on the board in the first minute with a good turn and shot in the Penn State box. Despite continued active play in the Lions zone, the Gophers could not capitalize.

Penn State’s Amanda Lentz broke the scoreless tie in the 23rd minute, connecting from 10 yards out on a crossing pass from Sophie Hiller.

But the Gophers kept the match close, nearly tying it in the 52nd minute on a shot from Rosalinda Kennedy. The shot crossed from right to left, deflected off the inside of the post and, defying the laws of modern physics, trickled harmlessly along the goal line. Lions goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who recorded her ninth shutout of the season, pounced on the ball before a Gophers player could follow the shot.

The Lions put the game away just nine minutes later as Tiffany Weimer, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, netted a quick turn and shot from 10 yards out.

“We lost today, but we should be proud of our performance,” junior defender Nicki Burnie said. “I thought we played with intensity but still under control.”

In contrast, the Gophers came out flat Friday night in cold, wet and windy conditions, surrendering two goals in the first 18 minutes and never recovering as their injury list grew in a 4-0 loss to the Buckeyes (10-2-3, 6-0-3 Big Ten).

“We honestly have 11 players injured,” Denney Wright said Friday. “We just can’t play at a Big Ten level with that many injuries, and that’s all there is to it.”

Danielle Dietrich scored three goals for the No. 16 Buckeyes and Lisa Grubb had two assists. Kennedy managed the only two shots on goal for the Gophers.

“I think we were just psyched out with all of the injuries,” senior forward Regina Moench said. “We just sucked overall.”

As a whole, however, Denney Wright said the weekend wasn’t a total wash.

“I’m proud of the way we rebounded,” Denney Wright said. “We executed well and we played our style of game. Against the No. 3 team in the nation; that’s not too bad.”