Gophers positive despite missing NCAAs

Emily Wickstrom

Minnesota’s soccer team completed the 2005 season much improved but dissatisfied.

The Gophers (9-8-2, 6-4-0 Big Ten) compiled a winning season for the first time since 1999, but were left out of the 64-team NCAA Tournament when the field was announced Monday.

Five Big Ten teams – Penn State, Purdue, Michigan State, Illinois and Wisconsin – received bids, the number Minnesota coach Mikki Denney Wright said she expected.

“Of course we’re disappointed,” Denney Wright said. “In the end it’s a goal of our program (to make NCAAs). It’s good to get as far as we’ve gotten, but clearly we want more.”

Minnesota was considered a team on the tournament bubble prior to the selection show.

What kept the Gophers out of the NCAA Tournament likely was a combination of two results from the Big Ten Tournament – Minnesota’s loss to Illinois in the first round paired with Wisconsin’s unexpected run to the championship.

A win against the Illini in the No. 4 versus No. 5 game Thursday would have given Minnesota 10 total wins, which along with the Gophers’ 6-4 Big Ten season would likely have been enough to impress the selection committee.

And the Badgers, the No. 7 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, could also have stolen a bid from the Gophers by receiving an automatic NCAA bid after defeating No. 8 Michigan 3-1 in the conference championship.

“I think we were really close,” Denney Wright said. “But I think we control our own destiny.”

Most frustrating for Minnesota was to watch teams be selected that the Gophers played competitive games against, sophomore defender Hailey McCarthy said.

“It’s hard to see teams go that you beat and you know you’re as good as,” McCarthy said.

“We beat Wisconsin and they got to go; we beat Illinois and they got to go.”

With seven out of 11 starters returning and a strong recruiting class, it may be difficult to keep Minnesota out of the NCAA Tournament next year.

“Now we won’t suffer for anything less than (qualifying for the NCAA Tournament),” freshman midfielder Kelsey Hood said. “It’s hard to take.”

If the Gophers want to improve on this season’s success, their offense will have to improve.

Minnesota established itself as a top defensive team after allowing just 16 total goals.

But the Gophers sometimes struggled on the attack, scoring only nine goals in the Big Ten season.

“We need to score,” Hood said of next year’s team. “If we don’t score, we won’t win.”

But even without the tournament bid, Denney Wright said thinks her program is headed in the right direction.

“It’s the first time ever we watched the selection show,” Denney Wright said. “It makes us hungry for next season.”