Rough weekend for U goaltenders

Jim Schortemeyer

Minnesota women’s soccer goalkeepers junior Dana Larson and freshman Julie Eibensteiner might need a hockey mask and extra padding if the rest of the season follows the standard set this weekend.
Larson and Eibensteiner faced a barrage of quality shots in the Minnesota losses to Wisconsin and Northwestern this weekend, and kept the damage to a minimum in respective 2-0 and 2-1 losses.
But Larson’s sub-par day Sunday has left Minnesota coach Sue Montagne in a lurch about who to start in next weekend’s games in Michigan.
The Wisconsin game Friday was especially intriguing — if not heart-stopping — to watch the Minnesota goalkeeper. One minute Larson was diving to stop a Wisconsin penalty kick, and the next she was running out to knock away a ball before it became a problem.
“She came up big today,” Montagne said. “She was just in the right place at the right time.”
In short, she did everything but build a wall in front of the net. But why were the goalies forced to make so many saves?
“Not one game we’ve played has been that tough,” Larson said.
While Northwestern and Wisconsin have both had games against teams ranked in the top-25, the weekend’s games marked Minnesota’s first against a team to even receive votes in the poll.
Minnesota’s inexperience against tough competition was especially evident against Wisconsin. The Gophers defense couldn’t win the ball away from the Badgers offense, which led to more than one close call.
“We kept putting out fires, but sooner or later the balls are going to go in the back of the net,” Montagne said.
With little time to regroup, Minnesota came back Sunday against Northwestern and played a much better game defensively. Although the Gophers goalies were forced to make two more saves than they did against Wisconsin, the Wildcats’ shots were not as solid as those off the Badgers’ feet.
Still, Larson’s Friday heroics didn’t carry over. She got the hook before the second half began after allowing one goal in front of a crowded Minnesota net, allowing freshman Julie Eibensteiner to see the first meaningful action of her career.
The reason for the change: faulty fundamentals.
“Dana let the ball bounce under her arm twice when she should have saved it,” Montagne said. “Julie’s been working hard in practice and deserves the chance to play.”
Although Minnesota spent the majority of the second-half on the Northwestern side of the field, the Wildcats were able to extend their lead when Kristen Palmer was fouled by Gopher Katie Hertz, and was given a penalty kick.
Although Eibensteiner guessed the right direction on the penalty kick, Palmer put the ball in the lower corner of the goal, just past the outstretched arms of the diving Eibensteiner.
The solid play of Eibensteiner may have earned her another chance to see action next weekend. Montagne was coy when asked who would be starting against Michigan State Friday.
“I’m not prepared to say either way right now,” Montagne said. “Julie has been working hard in practice, but Dana is still the number one goalie.”
Any thought of a goalkeeper controversy is highly premature-mature, based on Larson’s credentials. She played every minute in goal for the Gophers last season, had the most shutouts in the Big Ten and was named to the first All-Big Ten team.
But if Minnesota continues to struggle, look for Montagne to try anything to turn the results around.