Minnesota has must-win games against Wolverines and Spartans

by Paul Cordes

The Minnesota soccer team finds itself in a do-or-die situation in its final weekend of home games this season.

The Gophers will take on Michigan tonight at 7 p.m. and follow up with Michigan State on Sunday at 1 p.m. A loss this weekend would seriously damage Minnesota’s chances of a Big Ten Tournament bid.

Coach Mikki Denney Wright said her team knows where they stand and they are not planning on giving up.

“We know we’ve had some tough losses this year,” she said. “But there is no way these girls are quitting and they are continuing to fight on.”

The Gophers (8-7-1 overall, 1-6-0 Big Ten) begin that fight against Michigan (7-5-4, 3-2-2), whose chances of a tournament bid were also in serious doubt prior to last weekend’s games. But two big wins, including one over Illinois, who at the time was ranked No. 24 in the nation, leaves them sitting a lot better as they make the trip to St. Paul.

The Wolverines’ five-game unbeaten streak and their nine goals in the conference, compared to the Gophers’ two, will give Minnesota another tough test.

Freshman defender Dana Tripp said the team will need to score a lot of goals this weekend to win.

“We have to go all out; it’s do or die,” she said. “Coach likes to tell us we have to sell our souls to score a goal, and I think that’s what needs to happen this weekend.”

Coming into the weekend, Michigan State is in a similar boat as the Gophers. Currently ninth in the Big Ten, the Spartans (6-8-1, 2-5-0) are going to be in a must-win situation this weekend as well.

The two teams trying to determine their fates could bring a little extra to a game, which already is weighing heavily on the minds of both teams.

Freshman midfielder Sara Clancy said she thinks the game will be extra competitive due to the fact that both teams know that one loss means they are done.

“We’re both going to come out with competitive spirits and it’s going to be a hard-fought game,” she said. “We both know that we have to win and it’s definitely going to bring something extra to the game.”

The postseason picture in the Big Ten is very cloudy right now. Numerous possibilities still exist, but Minnesota will need some things to fall its way if the Gophers have hopes of a postseason appearance.

Only eight of the 11 Big Ten teams receive bids to the conference tournament. Minnesota is 1-6 in the Big Ten this year and currently sits in 10th place. Michigan State is in ninth with a 2-5 record. Ohio State, who will be Minnesota’s last Big Ten opponent next weekend, is eighth with a 3-4 record. Finally,

Wisconsin sits in seventh place with a 3-4-1 record.

The Gophers can keep their hopes alive by winning two games this weekend and watching to see if the cards fall in their favor when Ohio State plays Michigan and Michigan State.

With that in mind, Denney Wright said her team is facing a tough challenge down the stretch. Even though it could be a bumpy ride, she said she couldn’t be more excited about the team she coaches.

“If I’m going to go to battle, there is no other team or kids that I want to do it with,” she said. “I believe in them, they’re going to fight their brains out this weekend and they’re going to give everything they have and we hope that it’ll bounce our way.”