Minnesota practices closing games in border battle prep

The Gophers will play Wisconsin on Thursday and Penn State on Sunday.

Minnesota midfielder Lauren Bauer fights for the ball against Western Kentucky forward Amanda Buechel Sept. 3 at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.

Blake Leigh, Daily File Photo

Minnesota midfielder Lauren Bauer fights for the ball against Western Kentucky forward Amanda Buechel Sept. 3 at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.

Betsy Helfand

The Gophers have two tough games this weekend with Wisconsin and Penn State, and in preparation, they’re focusing on a team weakness: closing out games.

Head coach Stefanie Golan said a bulk of the team’s Wednesday practice would be devoted to “training goal up and goal down situations.”

She said that the team has been focusing on so many different pieces and hadn’t yet made closing out games a focus.

“We’re going to train it, and if things are breaking down and they’re not going the way they’re supposed to, we’re going to correct it and go again,” Golan said.

By the time they’re done, “it’s just going to be something that is a little bit hammered in so they know exactly what is expected,” she said.

This week, Minnesota will practice a slight alteration to its formation in the last 10 minutes of the game. Golan said that change is “not a big difference.”

The Gophers will set one of their attacking midfielders back to help out the defense and to provide an “extra cushion,” Golan said.

Junior defender MacKenzie Misel said she thought the change would help the team feel more comfortable, knowing that it has more people on defense.

Misel said that the first and last five minutes of any half are always crucial. She said those are times when teams often lose focus or relax too much.

“With this new formation, that’s going to help us … kill the time in those crucial moments,” Misel said.

Lauren Bauer, another junior defender, said the change “scares the other team” because it doesn’t feel it can “attack our weaknesses as much.”

Minnesota may have a chance to test out its new formation in game action as early as Thursday against Wisconsin.

The Badgers were ranked No. 14 last week before splitting a pair of games to drop them to 1-2-0 in the conference.

The teams sport the same Big Ten record, and Golan said the rivalry game will take on an extra edge with both teams trying to improve to 2-2.

She said the Badgers were very capable of scoring goals and making it difficult for teams to score against them.

Games against Wisconsin are always going to a bloodbath, she said.

“Wisconsin has and will be a rival for the whole entire state no matter what sport,” Misel said. “Even when we’re playing Wisconsin in basketball, I’m pissed. … We have to beat them in our sport, too.”

The Gophers played Wisconsin twice last year — the first game ended in a 2-2 double-overtime draw, and the second time Minnesota ended the Badgers’ season with a 2-0 Big Ten tournament win.

“[When] you’re a junior and senior or even a sophomore, you don’t like Wisconsin,” Bauer said. “And the freshmen don’t really know that feeling yet, but we haven’t lost to Wisconsin in a while, and I do not plan to lose on Thursday.”

The Gophers will face Wisconsin on Thursday at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium before heading to Pennsylvania to play No. 8 Penn State on Sunday.