Pump up the intensity: Gophers urged to play strong

Minnesota soccer coach Barbara Wickstrand advised her players to push each other harder.

Adam Fink

Minnesota women’s soccer coach Barbara Wickstrand gathered her team together before practice Tuesday for a meeting under the afternoon sun.

One of the first items on Wickstrand’s agenda was telling the Gophers to turn up their game intensity.

“We need to set higher standards,” Wickstrand told the team. “You’ve got to push yourselves and push each other.”

Heading into tonight’s game against Western Illinois, Minnesota (2-1-1) wants to establish consistent focus before the Big Ten schedule starts next weekend.

Against Ohio last weekend, the Gophers lost to a team both the players and Wickstrand said was

inferior in talent. On Sunday, Minnesota rebounded by defeating a team Wickstrand again expected to beat.

In addition, five of the six goals Minnesota allowed this season came following a mental mistake, Wickstrand said.

“It wasn’t the coaches,” defender Nicki Burnie said. “They had us prepared. We just lacked enthusiasm (Friday). We weren’t ready.

“We were pumped for Sunday. We just came in with a better mentality.”

So what changed?

Wickstrand struggled to answer that question. She felt the Gophers were prepared last weekend, and they looked ready in practice.

The best answer the fourth-year coach could muster was each person looked within themselves for focus.

“We are still young,” Wickstrand said. “It has to come from each player.”

Enter the Westerwinds.

Western Illinois (0-3) has yet to win a game this season. Last year, Western Illinois went 1-14-1. Wickstrand said this is a game Minnesota should win.

A lesson the Gophers hope they learned last weekend was not taking any opponent for granted.

“The loss was a wakeup call,” midfielder Anna Nudell Lee said. “We haven’t always been mentally ready. We don’t want a repeat of last season (when the team started 5-1 and then went 2-10-1 to finish the year).”

Tonight’s game is Minnesota’s last before starting the conference season next weekend with a Friday match against Purdue and a Sunday matinee against Illinois.

It is also the last time the Gophers will be able to fine-tune parts of their game before the competition gets tougher.

Despite usually playing two matches over the weekend, Minnesota only plays once.

That means there is only one more chance for the team to show Wickstrand its growth and potential.

A win tonight against Western Illinois won’t make believers out of the program’s critics. But reducing mental mistakes and earning the win the team expects will show they are mentally growing tougher.

“We can’t be overconfident,” Nudell Lee said. “But we also need to believe in ourselves.”

“We still haven’t proven anything yet.”