Gophers hoping for better defensive play on the road

by Nick Gerhardt

Minnesota’s defense collapsed like a stack of dominos last weekend and it will need to quickly pick themselves up in order to contend the rest of the season.

The Gophers (6-6-1 overall, 2-3 Big Ten) square off against No. 8 regionally ranked Ohio State (9-5 overall, 3-2 Big Ten) Friday and then battle perennial powerhouse No. 8 nationally ranked Penn State (11-2-1 overall, 5-0-0 Big Ten) Sunday.

Minnesota surrendered seven goals against Indiana and Purdue last weekend to extend its losing streak to three games and raise concern about their goalkeeping and defending.

Late in the first half against the Boilermakers, coach Mikki Denney Wright pulled sophomore Chelsey Turner from the goal in favor of junior Lindsey Dare. Turner had played every minute of every match up to that point, but had allowed six goals in her last 123 minutes played.

Denney Wright has yet to make a decision on who will start in goal against the Buckeyes.

Earlier in the season the Gophers defended well against set pieces, but made costly mistakes in their organization, giving up three goals on set pieces alone on the weekend.

“Last weekend was not very good,” junior Lindsey Schwartz said. “We made stupid mistakes we don’t normally make.”

Denney Wright said the team had only given up one goal off a set piece prior to last weekend and emphasized the need for better defending.

“Mentally we made mistakes on set pieces. We have to dictate the game with pressure,” she said.

This weekend Minnesota will have to deal with the likes of the Buckeye’s midfielder Laura Dickenmann, a Swiss national team member and senior captain, who Denney Wright called one of the best in the Big Ten.

Ohio State mirrors the Gophers in many regards. The Buckeyes field six starting freshmen, while Minnesota has started five at times this season. The Gophers rank fifth in the Big Ten in goals scored and Ohio State ranks right behind them at sixth.

Minnesota has one fewer win than the Buckeyes and a win Friday would even the standings.

“The key is to have lockdown defense and not give away bad goals,” Denney Wright said.

For the Gophers to have lockdown defense they will have to play sound team defense, something they have worked on all week in practice.

“We worked a ton on team defending and one on one defending. The defense starts with the forwards and works down to the backline,” junior Kaitlin Wagner said.

Minnesota had difficulty finding their marks and clearing the ball from the defending third of the field last weekend, Schwartz said.

“We can play so much better than last weekend. The defending will increase,” she said.

The defense will need to improve its effort Sunday especially against a team like the Nittany Lady Lions.

Penn State, the defending Big Ten champion, has bulldozed its way through competition lately by winning their last eight matches.

Katie Schoepfer leads the conference in goals and midfielder Zoe Bouchelle enters the weekend as the reigning Big Ten player of the week after racking up six points last weekend.

The Gophers have a player of their own racking up points lately. Freshman Katie Bethke leads the Big Ten in assists with seven and ranks sixth in points.

With her strong offensive output, Bethke has provided a glimpse into the future of this squad. In addition to leading the team in points, she leads all Big Ten freshmen in all scoring categories.

“She’s crafty. She knows the game very well and can play with any of the forwards,” Schwartz said.

With Minnesota still in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, a good showing this weekend would go a long way in boosting spirits.

“Trying to get win in the Big Ten is as tough as it’s ever been.”