U falls victim to Evansville

Aaron Kirscht

On an uncharacteristically warm November day, the Gophers women’s soccer team went cold.
The unranked Evansville Aces (14-4-1) came to Minnesota on Sunday and handed the No. 14 Gophers a painful 2-1 defeat, a loss that threatens the team’s postseason hopes and its mental well-being.
Defender Mikki Denney, one of four graduating seniors playing what could be her last home game, was almost speechless after the game.
“I don’t know what to say,” Denney said. “We could have — should have — played better than this.
“They’re a good team, but we still should have won the game. We didn’t, and it’s just depressing.”
The Gophers (13-5 overall, 5-2 Big Ten) won’t have long to mull over the defeat. They play Northwestern on Friday in the first round of the Big Ten tournament in Columbus, Ohio.
Minnesota may have taken the loss, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The Gophers swarmed Evansville goalkeeper Misty Long throughout the game but were simply unable to get the ball past her.
“There were no surprises in this game,” Coach Sue Montagne said. “We knew coming in (Evansville was) a hard-working team, and they proved that today.”
Minnesota appeared to score midway through the first half on a crossing pass from Megan Johnson to Erin Hussey, but the goal was waved off by the referee because the ball had skipped out of bounds before Johnson sent it toward the goal.
Then with 16 minutes left in the half, a Hussey corner kick to the far goalpost was converted by Jennifer McElmury for her 12th goal of the season.
The Gophers have a habit of playing well with a lead, but that didn’t happen Sunday.
Evansville went back on the offensive in a hurry. Less than a minute after scoring a goal, McElmury was called for an illegal tackle deep in the Minnesota zone. That gave Evansville’s Sally Meek a penalty kick, which she placed easily in the upper right corner of the net.
Meek’s goal, her fifth of the season, tied the game and appeared to steal the Gophers’ fire — they wouldn’t get it back.
Johnson shot and hit the cross bar close to the 70-minute mark and started a two-minute flurry of activity in the Evansville zone. Four shots flew at Long in rapid succession, but she wrapped up every one.
And once again, Evansville responded to the pressure with a goal. The Aces’ Stephanie Hartong took advantage of a Gophers mistake and scored the game-winner with 12:06 left in the game. A missed defensive assignment left Hartong all alone in front of the Minnesota net, where she boomed the ball well out of reach Gophers goalie Teresa O’Hearn.
With only 10 minutes left to play, the Gophers tried to put together a late comeback attempt — and almost succeeded.
A McElmury free kick sailed high, but on the ensuing play all that stood in the way of a game-tying goal was a crowd of Gophers and Aces in front of the net.
Seconds later fans were convinced Gophers sophomore Colleen Tierney had scored on a scramble in front of the net, but Long made yet another big save.
Tierney’s miss would prove to be the Gophers’ last shot at a tie.
“I thought it was going in,” she said. “I’ll be thinking about that one for a while, that’s for sure.”
Every Gophers player and coach will have a lot to think about heading into the conference tournament this weekend. The loss to Evansville may leave the Gophers in a position where they must win the tournament to gain a bid to the NCAA playoffs later this month.
“If we lose to Northwestern (in the first round), we might be out of it,” Denney said. “Evansville isn’t ranked, Northwestern isn’t ranked, and if we lose two in a row, we’ll be out of it, just like that.”
Now that the regular season is over, Montagne said the team will have to put this loss behind them if they want to achieve their goals of repeating as conference champs and going to the NCAA tournament.
“I’m a little nervous about the NCAAs,” Montagne said. “But we have the Big Tens coming up, and we have to focus on that.”

GAME SUMMARY
Evansville 1 1 — 2
Gophers 1 0 — 1

First Half: Minn — McElmury 12 (Hussey), 28:37. Evan — Meek 5 (unassisted) PK, 29:16.
Second Half: Evan — Hartong 7 (Fryman), 77:54.
A — 503.