Pair of wins breaks pair of streaks

Bob Wothe

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Minnesota’s soccer team hasn’t had a weekend like this in more than four years.

The Gophers (5-8-0, 1-6-0 Big Ten) swept two games in a weekend road trip for the first time since October 2000. Minnesota beat Wisconsin on Friday and Wisconsin-Green Bay on Sunday by scores of 2-1 and 1-0, respectively.

“I think you get to a point where you just can’t handle losing anymore,” said Regina Moench, who recorded five points this weekend. “We just got fed up and won some games.”

The Gophers beat Wisconsin-Green Bay in a game in which they dictated the tempo early and never let up. But in a physical game that Minnesota coach Mikki Denney Wright termed a “war,” the contest was scoreless until the 80th minute.

The Gophers finally broke through on a Pele-esque bicycle kick by Kaitlin Neary. A cross from Moench deflected off the crossbar and into the foot of Neary.

“I just saw it going back over my head and kicked my foot up,” Neary said. “I didn’t even really know what happened until I turned around and saw the ball in the goal.”

To Denney Wright, however, completing the sweep meant more than just breaking a bad streak.

“I was so happy with the way we played mentally,” Denney Wright said. “It wasn’t a pretty game, but we battled through, and I learned a lot about how strong we are.”

While Sunday’s game was a landmark turnaround for the team, the Gophers broke another streak Friday night. The Gophers hadn’t won a Big Ten road game since 2001 – a run of 13 straight losses.

Minnesota came back from a 1-0 first-half deficit to defeat the Badgers on their home pitch 2-1. Moench scored a goal and had an assist in a span that lasted just more than a minute to spark the Gophers’ second-half run.

It was an impressive finish to an otherwise ugly start. The Badgers dominated the tempo early, getting multiple chances but being turned away by Gophers goalkeeper Molly Schneider every time.

The Badgers struck first blood late in the first half, though, as Kara Kabellis scored on a free kick from just outside the box. For the Gophers, who had lost four straight 1-0 games before last weekend, the game had a sickeningly familiar tone.

But the Gophers did not go quietly this time.

“We put four people up front and just said forget it,” Denney Wright said. “We just said let’s try to score goals, and the forwards had to bail us out.”

Forwards Moench, Haley Lentsch and Becky Dellaria finally did the jobs early in the second half. Moench used her head to redirect a Dellaria cross pass into the goal in the 57th minute.

Just one minute later, Moench was at it again, assisting Lentsch’s goal on a two-on-one break to give the Gophers a 2-1 lead and eventually the win.

The last 10 minutes of the game were a flurry of activity as Wisconsin had multiple solid chances to score in the Minnesota box. But the Gophers held on, with Molly Schneider making eight total saves in the contest.

“We’ve been so close all season,” Neary said. “This weekend, we finally found the final push, and it feels great.”