Gophers advance to second round of NCAA tournament

Minnesota defeated Auburn 2-0 on Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Midfielder Megan Gray fights for the ball at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 16. The Gophers defeated Northwestern 2-0.

Jack Rodgers

Midfielder Megan Gray fights for the ball at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 16. The Gophers defeated Northwestern 2-0.

Erik Nelson

The Gophers’ motto under head coach Stefanie Golan is “Take the Stairs.” Minnesota climbed another step toward its goal of winning the program’s first NCAA championship.

Minnesota (12-8-2) defeated Auburn (12-6-2) 2-0 on Friday in Auburn, Alabama in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Gophers will play in the second round of the tournament for the first time since 2015. It was the first postseason road victory in Minnesota history.

Defender and co-captain Emily Peterson scored the winning goal in the 61st minute. It was Peterson’s first collegiate goal.

“To get on the end of that and feel it go off my foot was a great feeling,” Peterson said. “Right as I hit it, I knew it was going in the goal.”

Goalkeeper Maddie Nielsen won her 12th match of the season and earned her fourth consecutive shutout. Nielsen has not allowed a goal this postseason.

Forward April Bockin said Minnesota’s defense and Nielsen’s goalkeeping are reasons why the team is winning matches in November.

“Our back line doesn’t get quite enough credit,” Bockin said. “We’ve had four straight shutouts. They have played phenomenally not only on the defensive side, but they’re helping us with the attack and getting us going there.”

Bockin assisted on both Minnesota goals. She is now third all-time in program history with 27 career assists.

Midfielder Megan Gray added an insurance goal for the Gophers in the 80th minute off a corner kick. Both Minnesota goals came off set pieces. Peterson and Gray are the first two Minnesota players other than Bockin to score this postseason. 

Golan said Minnesota practices both offensive and defensive set pieces constantly.

“Those are some critical moments that can decide [matches],” Golan said. “We were able to make the most of a couple of those.”

Gray said she feels excited to play soccer deeper into November.

“These last few weeks have been surreal with all the wins,” Gray said. “To know that the seniors get to continue their careers for the Gophers is exciting. We’re all fighting for them and fighting for each other.”

Minnesota will play No. 4 UCLA (15-3-1) in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Friday at Wallis Annenberg Stadium in Los Angeles. The match begins at 9:30 p.m.

Golan said the Gophers will have time to prepare for Friday’s match and catch up on schoolwork.

“[The players] understand the importance of controlling the things they can control,” she said. “We’ve been on the road four weekends in a row. They’ve got to stay on top of their studies. As strong a performance that we’re putting on the field … they do just as well in the classroom.”