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Soccer’s Big Ten tourney chances dimmer as Lions come to town

When Penn State’s soccer team arrives at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Friday night, two longtime friends will be reunited.

Minnesota senior defender Meghan Jones and Lions forward Heidi Drummond were once co-captains at Chatfield High School in Littleton, Colo.

Now the two are on opposite ends of the Big Ten standings, with Penn State fighting for a conference title and the Gophers clinging to hopes of still making the Big Ten tournament.

But Jones still got in a little trash talk to her old pal.

“I know how she plays,” Jones said. “I’ve played with her forever. I don’t think she’s that big of a threat to me; we can shut her down.”

Easier said than done – just ask Illinois or Iowa.

Last Friday against the Illini, Drummond recorded a hat trick in a 4-0 Lions drubbing.

Two days later, Drummond kicked in two more goals and added an assist in a 4-2 win over the Hawkeyes. For her efforts, Drummond earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Too bad for Minnesota that Drummond isn’t all it has to worry about.

The Lions (11-2-1, 6-1 Big Ten) also boast three-time Big Ten Player of the Year Christie Welsh and freshman phenom Tiffany Weimer.

“They’re a great team with great individual talent,” Gophers coach Barbara Wickstrand said. “There are a lot of people who can put the ball in the back of the net. We’re approaching it like we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We’re 4-1 at home, so we’re staying with those positives.”

Minnesota (6-7-1, 1-6) has not beaten Penn State in six games dating back to 1997, the year the Gophers won the Big Ten title.

The Lions have won every Big Ten title since then and are poised for a fifth straight.

None of this is good news for Minnesota, as it is barely alive in the Big Ten tournament chase.

Two losses this weekend and the Gophers are history. One loss and Minnesota must win versus Wisconsin on Oct. 25 to even have a prayer.

But at least home field advantage is on the Gophers’ side.

“The atmosphere there is always great,” Penn State coach Paula Wilkins said. “That’s something we have to be concerned about and recognize for our team.”

Minnesota hopes to use its home field advantage Sunday as well in a critical matchup with Ohio State.

The Buckeyes (4-8-1, 2-4-1) have only one more conference win than the Gophers, and Wickstrand called the game a “must win” for her team’s placing in the Big Ten standings.

If Minnesota and Ohio State were to end up tied for eighth place, the winner of the head-to-head matchup would make the tournament.

The Gophers have defeated the Buckeyes in the teams’ last three meetings, with the last loss coming in 1999. This season Ohio State is last in the conference in goals per game at 1.23.

But statistics are the last thing on the players’ minds. Getting a few victories and just seeing what happens in the Big Ten standings is Minnesota’s focus.

“We’re 1-6 (in the Big Ten),” forward Rachael Roth said. “I don’t want to keep being one and whatever; I’d rather get some more wins on the board.”

Anthony Maggio covers soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]
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