Gophers walk away with overtime victory in tough conditions

Minnesota needed extra time to beat the Wildcats at home Friday.

by Mark Mowery

The wind was blowing, rain and temperatures were falling and the minutes left in the game, possibly along with the GophersâÄô NCAA tournament chances, were slipping away. But a determined Minnesota squad finally found the back of the net on a Kylie Kallman deflection in the first overtime to defeat Northwestern, 1-0. In the 97th minute of the first overtime period, junior forward Katie Bethke sent a slicing ball toward the middle of the penalty area from just outside the top left of the 18-yard box. Just when another well-placed effort from Bethke seemed to go to waste, Kallman got just enough of the ball to steer it into the lower right corner and send the Gopher players into a frenzy. âÄúKatie always serves great balls, and it was great getting on the end of one,âÄù Kallman said. âÄúIt felt really great. Katie worked so hard, and she had a lot of opportunities, so IâÄôm glad I could finish one off for the team.âÄù The first half saw the Minnesota offense struggle to find the back of the net again, attempting only four shots and hardly challenging Wildcats goalkeeper Carolyn Edwards . Short possession plagued both sides, as play looked choppy through the first 20 minutes of the half and neither team could find any kind of rhythm. âÄúI thought the first half was a little bit ugly both ways,âÄù Gophers head coach Mikki Denney Wright said. Though both teams attempted four corners, neither goalkeeper was challenged throughout most of the half. Except when, in the 41st minute of play, NorthwesternâÄôs senior midfielder Alicia Herczeg put a brilliant strike on goal from the top of the box, which took a direct deflection downward from the crossbar and hit the goal line. The play drew protest from several Northwestern players, but the Gophers cleared the dangerous ball with the score still knotted at zero. The second half, however, was a different story. The Gophers outshot the Wildcats 7-2, dominating possession and keeping the Northwestern defense on its toes. âÄúThey came out in the second half and went after it fearlessly, and I was so proud of how they responded,âÄù said Denney Wright of the GophersâÄô effort. Unfortunately, Minnesota had no goals to show for its effort in the harsh conditions. Another great turn from Herczeg at the top of the box in the 69th minute of play nearly put the Wildcats ahead, but the ball was just left of target leaving the score level at 0-0. Sophomore forward Tamara Strahota received an excellent flick from Bethke in the 75th minute and connected with the ball, only to be denied by a well-positioned Northwestern defender standing on the goal line. The overtime saw physical play from both sides with junior midfielder Julie Rezac picking herself off the pitch surface in several instances. Eventually, RezacâÄôs hard efforts were rewarded with a free kick just more than seven minutes into the overtime, and Bethke and Kallman took over from there. The importance of the game for the GophersâÄô NCAA tournament hopes was not lost on the players. âÄúWe knew that this game and the next game were big games to make the NCAA tournament, so we were really do or die. There was no tomorrow after today,âÄù Kallman said. Finally winning a close game may be just what Minnesota needed to help finish the season and boost them into the NCAA tournament. âÄúIt was a game that will help the kids a lot. It is going to be an important game for our team, and they certainly deserve it,âÄù Denney Wright said. Next up is Senior Night for Minnesota vs. Indiana at 7 p.m. at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. The win Friday only increases the importance of the contest. âÄúHopefully the momentum continues, and weâÄôll concentrate all week on Indiana, and thatâÄôs all really we have to look forward to because if thatâÄôs not a win our season is done,âÄù Kallman said.