Big Ten soccer tourney approaches

Aaron Kirscht

Susan Filkins

The Big Ten Soccer Tournament begins Friday in Columbus, Ohio. Seven teams will try to dethrone the Gophers, who defeated Wisconsin 1-0 for the title last season in Madison, Wisc.
The Big Ten champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament later this month. But a number of at-large bids are still up for grabs and could be locked up with a strong performance in the tournament. Bids will be announced Monday. Here is a preview of each team, beginning with its seed in the tournament:
This season, No. 10 Wisconsin (12-3-4 overall, 5-0-2 Big Ten) was the first team in the three-year history of the league to go undefeated in conference play.
Heather Maier’s nine goals and five assists are good enough for the team lead and a share in a three-way tie for sixth in the conference, and Julie Johnson is the Big Ten’s leading goalkeeper with a .82 goals-against average.
If the Badgers jump out early, look out: They are undefeated (10-0-3) when scoring first.
Michigan State
Disappointment describes Michigan State’s season. The Spartans failed to win a game in Big Ten play (0-7-0) and finished the season with only three wins overall (3-16-0).
Despite defensive errors and tough competition in the Big Ten, coach Tom Saxton remains confident.
“We are hopeful,” Saxton said. “It has been an extremely tough season, but I feel that we can matchup and compete with anyone in the conference.”
Penn State
The weekend of Sept. 27-29 proved costly for No. 12 Penn State, which managed a tie with then-No.18 Wisconsin but lost badly to unranked Northwestern, 4-0.
That loss left the Lions (14-3-2, 5-1-1) out of contention for the regular season championship, as Wisconsin cruised to an undefeated conference season.
But don’t count them out just yet. Penn State finished second in the Big Ten in scoring behind Ohio State and boasts the league’s best winning percentage at .789.
Coach Joe Kelly describes Indiana’s season as being up and down. Finishing 2-5-0 in the Big Ten and 8-10-0 overall, the Hoosiers were affected by the loss of key players during the season, including last year’s top scorer Tracy Grose.
“This is not the season we expected,” Kelly said. “Only four players have started consistently in 18 games. Inconsistency is hard to coach.”
With the exception of a disappointing loss to Evansville in their final regular season game Sunday, the Gophers have been building toward a repeat since the preseason. Minnesota won six of its last seven before losing to Evansville. The other loss came against No. 2 North Carolina.
But No. 18 Minnesota has been hampered by injuries to three key players: Noelle Papenhausen, Jaime O’Gara and 1995 Big Ten Player of the Year Jennifer Walek.
Former Freshman of the Year Jennifer McElmury and senior Erin Hussey filled in nicely, however, combining for 23 goals and 60 points in the regular season.
The Gophers opened the conference schedule with a loss to No. 2 seed Penn State and also suffered what coach Sue Montagne called an “embarrassing” loss to No. 1 seed Wisconsin. Those teams will try to block Minnesota’s drive to a second straight championship.
Northwestern (12-6-1, 3-4) improved considerably from the 1995 season, when they finished below .500 at 8-9-1.
Junior forward Stephanie Erickson has been near the top of the individual scoring list all season, but broke away from the pack with a four-goal weekend against Valparaiso and Butler Oct. 25 and Oct. 27. She now leads the Big Ten with 13 goals and 33 points.
Wendy Scholz has been solid in goal for the Wildcats, tied with Ohio State goalkeeper Jessica Jones for the league lead in shutouts with seven.
Northwestern played their first-round opponent, Minnesota, tight on the road, losing 1-0 on a late goal by Erin Hussey.
After losing to Ohio State earlier this season, Michigan coach Debbie Belkin hopes that her team can play better in their re-match with the Buckeyes this Friday.
The Wolverines finished the season strong with a Big Ten record of 3-3-1 and 9-6-3 overall. The team is fortunate to have sustained no injuries this season.
“We finished up where we thought we might,” Belkin said. “We didn’t overachieve by any means. We came on strong the second half of the season. Overall I’m pleased with the season.”
Ohio State
Buckeyes coach Lori Henery calls this season the best one they have had in four years.
“This has been a tremendous season,” Henery said. “We have enjoyed a great year with a lot of success.”
With four starting seniors and four others coming off the bench, the Buckeyes finished the season 3-4-0 in the Big Ten and 14-6-0 overall. Henery attributes the team’s success to the outstanding senior leadership.
Ohio State, the host school of the tournament, has played well at home and is excited to face Michigan.
“They are a great team,” Henery said. “We are 3-0 career with Michigan. They are definitely a tough team and will present a challenge.”