Soccer wants to put more pressure on opponents

Minnesota had been slow to reach foes until last weekend.

Adam Fink

Twenty-one minutes stood in the way of Minnesota’s soccer team notching its first Big Ten win of the season Sunday.

The defense had been faltering all second half. One play stood out among others.

Gophers Anna Nudell Lee and Becky Dellaria chased an Indiana midfielder, attempting to stop the attacker en route to the goal.

The Indiana player would have been able to set up for a clear shot on Gophers goaltender Karli Kopietz if she had gotten through the two Minnesota players.

Both Nudell Lee and Dellaria converged on the Hoosiers’ Emily Hotz moments apart and stole the ball. Minnesota (4-2-1, 1-1 Big Ten) won the game 2-1 and sits tied for fourth place in the conference.

Double-teaming and attacking the ball has been a focal point of coach Barbara Wickstrand’s defense.

Until last weekend, Minnesota had been slow to reach opponents, allowing the other team to find the open player and have solid ball movement.

But a positive to come out of Minnesota’s 2-0 loss to Purdue on Friday and Sunday’s win was its ability to force quick decisions and movement from the Boilermakers – often leading to turnovers and balls dumped into the zone.

“You can never let up with defense,” Wickstrand said Friday. “We have talked about applying pressure on the ball and the team responded. It’s a bright spot but it can always get better.”

While the defense was forcing midfielders to dump the ball into the Gophers zone, Minnesota wasn’t on the winning end of many of the 50-50 opportunities.

Purdue and Indiana won most of the headers, while Minnesota was able to use its speed and battle for the ground race to the ball.

“We were going in there tough,” co-captain Jennifer Cressman said after Friday’s loss. “We just weren’t winning the jump balls. I know we can be just as tough, though.”

Earning a win last weekend was the top priority. But knowing the defense can make big plays and is improving is just as comforting.

And as Wickstrand has said many times this season – and said after Sunday’s win – the only place for the Gophers to go is up. Minnesota finished at the bottom of the Big Ten last season.

Walk-on makes impact

Allison Raino never expected to play at any level of collegiate soccer, despite being named Division 2 second-team all-state last year in Michigan.

But the Portage, Mich., native decided to call Wickstrand this past summer and ask for a soccer try-out.

With two other students, Raino attended the first day of Minnesota’s soccer practice Aug. 13.

“We liked what we saw,” Wickstrand said. “She has speed and heart.”

The Gophers coaches were not sure if they would take on any more players. But with only a 21-woman roster, Wickstrand asked Raino to join the team. The other two athletes who tried out didn’t make the cut.

Now, Raino is a starting midfielder. The 5-foot-3 freshman has started all seven games for Minnesota and has notched an assist.

“This has been the best experience of my life,” Raino said. “I didn’t know if I would make it but I am glad I have a shot.”

Corner kicks

* Minnesota wore its new alternate jerseys for Friday’s game. Purdue only brought its home whites, leaving the Gophers to wear their road maroon jerseys.

Instead, Minnesota broke out its light gold uniform, with a maroon “M” on the upper left corner for its Big Ten opener.

“We had them, so we want to use them,” Wickstrand said.

* The Boilermakers’ Courtney Coppedge was named the Big Ten’s offensive player of the week after posting goals in wins over the Gophers and Wisconsin. Purdue is the only 2-0 team in the conference.