Top team, player, come to Robbie Stadium

Tiffany Weimer, the Big Ten’s all-time leading goal scorer, and No. 1 Penn State visit St. Paul.

by Emily Wickstrom

One would think having to face arguably the top player in the country is enough.

Tonight, Minnesota’s soccer team not only must try to defend against forward Tiffany Wiemer – the Big Ten’s all-time leader in goals scored – but the Gophers also to take on the No. 1 team in the country.

The Gophers (9-6-2, 6-3-0 Big Ten) will get their chance against Weimer and Penn State at 7 tonight at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium in St. Paul.

“It’s just a great opportunity,” Minnesota coach Mikki Denney Wright said. “We always want to play the best.

“But we’re going to have to be ready.”

Penn State (17-0-0, 9-0-0) has a long history of being one of the top teams in the NCAA.

The Nittany Lions already clinched their eighth straight Big Ten title and boast one of the best offensive attacks in the country, averaging more than three goals per game.

Weimer, a candidate for the Hermann Trophy – the award given to the top women’s soccer player in the nation – is the focal point of Penn State’s explosive offense.

She has scored a goal in every Penn State game this season and recently set the conference goal record when she scored her 83rd career goal Sunday against Michigan State.

Denney Wright said the Gophers will have to defend against Weimer as a team rather than individually.

“This is the ultimate test for our defense – to see if we can hold them,” she said. “And it’s a great challenge. Our kids love it.”

Minnesota’s defense, which has been outstanding all season, is the main reason the Gophers have a chance to be competitive.

The Gophers allow the second fewest goals per game in the Big Ten, and senior goalkeeper Molly Schneider has proved she is statistically one of the best goalies in the conference. She leads the Big Ten in saves, and is second in shutouts, with seven.

“Our defense is pretty solid, so I think they’re going to give their front a pretty tough run,” senior forward Becky Dellaria said. “If we can put it together up top I think we can have a decent chance against them.”

Another reason for Minnesota’s optimism is that Penn State has at times shown its vulnerability. Although the Nittany Lions have won 27 straight regular season Big Ten games, they haven’t all been dominant wins.

They needed an overtime period Oct. 2 to beat 10th place Wisconsin 2-1, and trailed Purdue on Sept. 23 before winning 3-2.

“They get scored on,” Dellaria said. “I guess their defense isn’t as fantastic as one would think. But they have kids who can score, so it’s not really a factor.”

Regardless of whether Minnesota pulls out a major upset, Denney Wright said the matchup itself makes the game intriguing.

“You get to see the No. 1 team go against who we are as the ultimate underdog,” she said. “We’re like the giant killers. That’s who we’ve been the whole year Ö our team thrives off that.”