Big Ten title within Gophers’ reach

As the University of Minnesota womenâÄôs soccer team heads into another weekend of competition, it may be safe to say its attention is focused more keenly on the weekend of Nov. 6. The Gophers (15-2-0 Overall, 5-2-0 Big Ten ) are tied for second place in the Big Ten with rival Michigan State and second only to Penn State . If the Gophers have a strong showing in the next three games, they stand to end the season with a first-place finish in the Big Ten. Though each team in the Big Ten will have an opportunity to compete in the Big Ten tournament, which takes place Nov. 6 through the 9, a strong finish in the Big Ten will only aid the Gophers. âÄúWe can only do what we can do,âÄù sophomore forward Katie Bethke said, adding that it may help if Penn State splits its weekend series against Illinois and Purdue. âÄúWeâÄôd want to win these games no matter what if we were in eighth place or second place.âÄù However the teamâÄôs first challenge will be this weekendâÄôs games against border rival Wisconsin and Northwestern. They will take on the Badgers at 7 p.m., Friday before facing the Wildcats at 1 p.m., Sunday . Both games will be played at home. The Badgers (9-6-1, 3-4-0) started their Big Ten season with a 0-4 start, but have won their last straight three games. Senior Taylor Walsh and freshman Laurie Nosbusch lead the attack for Wisconsin. Walsh is ranked in the top half of the Big Ten in overall goals scored with eight. Nosbusch has contributed seven goals this season to the Badgers offense and is also ranked in the Big Ten. Bethke said the rivalry this weekend against Wisconsin will be strong, but Northwestern is also a team the Gophers are focused on beating. âÄúTheyâÄôre two strong teams,âÄù she said. âÄúEvery team in the Big Ten is.âÄù Northwestern (8-7-1, 3-4-0) is mucking its way through the bottom half of the Big Ten. Though the team garnered a big win last weekend against Michigan, it has dropped close decisions to both Penn State and Ohio State this season that have affected its standings. Senior midfielder Amanda Hoffman leads the Wildcats in goals scored with senior forward Jenny Dunn rounding out the teamâÄôs attack with 16 shots on goal this season. Sophomore goalkeeper Carolyn Edwards has the net blocked up for the Wildcats. Edwards boasts a respectable 1.4 goals against average. The remarkable journey The Gophers will celebrate senior night this Friday. Though every graduation is an emotional one, the seven women graduating this year comprise Mikki Denney WrightâÄôs first recruiting class as Gophers head coach. This group of seniors, Denney Wright said, is who the Gophers have to thank for their current success. âÄúThey put this team on their back for the last four years and have carried us to the top of the Big Ten,âÄù she said. âÄúI give all the credit to them.âÄù In 2005 , the Gophers finished in the middle of the Big Ten. The turnaround they have made over the careers of this yearâÄôs seniors is a remarkable one. Minnesota has already set new team records this season, and is poised to break conference records in shutouts, GAA, overall goals allowed and fewest goals allowed per game. Senior midfielder Kelsey Hood said the teamâÄôs journey has been âÄúcrazy,âÄù and said playing well for her senior teammates is at the top of her mind this weekend. âÄúWhen I committed here,âÄù she said, âÄúI wanted to be a part of an important program, and to see that actually happening is one of my dreams, one of my goals and itâÄôs awesome.âÄù