Gophers shut out, then get shut out

Team beat Vanderbilt 1-0 and lost to Central Florida 3-0 in an Alabama tournament.

by Ben Goessling

If Minnesota’s soccer team’s first game of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Classic last weekend was a sign the team is finally headed in the right direction, its match against Central Florida on Sunday afternoon showed just how far the Gophers still have to come.

Minnesota shut out Vanderbilt 1-0 in the first game before the Knights shut out Minnesota 3-0, foiling the Gophers’ bid to begin a season 3-0 for the first time since 1996.

First-year coach Mikki Denney Wright, who took over for Barbara Wickstrand last spring, isn’t complaining about where Minnesota is at – after all, the Gophers haven’t seen the right side of .500 in the 21st century.

“I’m very excited where we’re at defensively,” she said. “Overall, the players have been really responsive.”

But Central Florida, which has qualified for the last three NCAA tournaments and is currently seventh in the Southeast Regional rankings, represents a level of consistency that, at this point, Minnesota can only dream about.

“We have to be more mature and get into our rhythm,” Denney Wright said. “We never did that today.”

The Gophers began the weekend by beating Vanderbilt 1-0. Wisconsin-Milwaukee transfer Molly Schneider started in goal for Minnesota, posting 11 saves. The junior also blanked Northern Iowa Aug. 29.

It was the first time Minnesota has posted back-to-back shutouts in two years, and the team had just two all of last season.

Kaitlin Neary scored the Gophers’ only goal on Friday, taking a crossing pass from Haley Lentsch in the 31st minute and drilling a shot from the top of the box.

Denney Wright said she’d like to see “better organization and possession in the midfield,” but understands the team is a work in progress.

And for a squad that hasn’t even qualified for the Big Ten tournament since 2000, 2-1 isn’t a bad start.

“The team has improved tremendously since the spring,” said Denney Wright, who played for Minnesota from 1994-96. “They’re a very good group to work with.”

The Gophers continue a six-game road trip next weekend, traveling to Boise, Idaho, for a tournament with Boise State and Montana.