Gophers’ offense sputters early in Big Ten play, aims to improve

Minnesota has only scored one goal in its first three Big Ten games.

Jace Frederick

In soccer, the principle is simple – scoring goals wins games.

And that standard is making it difficult for the Gophers to succeed early in the Big Ten season.

Minnesota has netted just one goal through its first three conference tilts (1-2).

“I think [it’s] just our intensity and grit to want to score,” junior midfielder Olivia Schultz said. “We got to the Big Ten, [and] we didn’t have that spark to want to score goals.”

The offensive funk comes after the Gophers tallied 18 goals in eight nonconference bouts. They went 7-1 in those games.

Sophomore forward Haley Helverson said the Gophers are lacking some confidence up front. And that lack of confidence could stem from a lack of experience.

Freshman midfielder Josee Stiever, freshman forward Simone Kolander and sophomore transfer forward Taylor Stainbrook were all major contributors in the attacking zone during the nonconference slate.

None of the three have scored in their first tastes against bigger, more physical defenders in the conference.

“Big Ten [competition’s] never easy to go up against,” Helverson said. “You don’t know what the Big Ten is like until you’re actually there. Those nerves were a big issue.”

But nerves often deplete with repetition. And if the Gophers can create enough offensive chances moving forward, some of them are bound to find the net.

“We just really have to focus on being on frame and taking the opportunities,” Stainbrook said. “When we take our opportunities, they’re good. But we just don’t take them enough.”

Penn State looms

The Gophers haven’t beaten Sunday’s opponent, defending national runner-up and current No. 7 Penn State, since 2007.

That streak isn’t lost on the Gophers.

“Being a senior, we’ve never beat Penn State,” defender Lauren Bauer said. “Coming off a huge win like [the win over then-No. 13 Michigan on Sunday], we have a lot of confidence.”

But before the Gophers get to the Nittany Lions, they must get through Ohio State on Friday night.

Junior forward/midfielder Taylor Wodnick said the Buckeyes won’t be overlooked.

“We’re all excited to play [Penn State],” Wodnick said, “but we … need to focus on [Friday].”

Return to the Robbie

The Gophers’ first three Big Ten games were all road contests.

Helverson said that stretch was hard on everyone

“Everyone’s super stressed out,” Helverson said. “I think that kind of affects our play a little bit.”

But this weekend, the Gophers return to the friendly confines of Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium, where they’re 5-0 so far this season.

It’s a return the players said they welcome.

“Oh my God, I can’t wait,” Wodnick said. “It’ll be nice being home.”