Pair of critical conference games await soccer team

Anthony Maggio

In an intense workout before Wednesday’s practice, Minnesota soccer coach Barbara Wickstrand fired shots at goalkeeper Karli Kopietz.

Kopietz let two balls slip into the goal, then let a popular profanity slip out. Wickstrand disciplined Kopietz with 30 pushups in a lesson to control her emotion.

Meanwhile, it seemed the Gophers Big Ten season loomed precariously all around them. The cold weather, gusty wind and moderate rain set a gloomy backdrop for a Minnesota team coming off two frustrating losses and facing difficult terrain ahead.

Although the Gophers (5-3, 0-2 Big Ten) just began conference play last weekend, they welcome two ranked opponents to Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium this weekend. Two more losses would mean a 0-4 conference record and a four game losing streak.

“It’s a very crucial weekend for us,” Kopeitz said. “We can’t go 0-4. We have to win these two.”

The Gophers were shutout at 19th ranked Purdue and Indiana last weekend, and both teams are ranked in the top 10 regionally.

But the competition gets no lighter for Minnesota, with Michigan State and Michigan on tap. The Spartans are ranked fifth regionally, while the Wolverines are first in the region and ranked 14th nationally. Both Michigan schools are in a first place tie with the Boilermakers in the conference.

And don’t forget both Michigan (7-1, 2-0) and Michigan State (6-1, 2-0) shut out the Gophers last season.

No reason to worry, however, according to Wickstrand.

“Last year we were dominated by Purdue and Indiana, and this year we (controlled) the play of the game,” Wickstrand said. “I think they see that.”

Both games last weekend ended in 1-0 scores, but Minnesota was competitive in shots on goal. The Gophers were out shot by Indiana 7-6, but out shot Purdue 10-5.

“Even though we did lose, we still dominated both games,” forward Kaitlin Neary said. “It’s just a matter of not scoring. If anything, Purdue is ranked in the top 20 and now we know we can play with them. I think if anything it raised our confidence.”

Finding the back of the net now tops Minnesota’s “things to do” list.

The Gophers are surprisingly second in the conference in shots with 127 (one behind first place Michigan), but are tied for last in goals scored (nine).

Neither team this weekend will make things easy for Minnesota, either. Michigan State leads the conference, allowing only .14 goals a game. Tied with the Gophers in third place is Michigan with a .75 goals allowed per game average.

A few players said they wish there was more time to prepare for such tough opponents, but defender Jen Cressman said Minnesota should be ready.

“This weekend will be halfway through our season,” Cressman said. “I think we’ve had time, I think that we can do it. It’s just a matter of coming out and putting it together.”

By “it,” Cressman meant a complete game, including goal scoring. The Gophers worked hard on scoring this week, but Wickstrand hopes fortune can cut them a break.

“We have to create more luck,” Wickstrand said. “The harder we work, the luckier we’ll get.”

Anthony Maggio covers soccer and

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