Gophers fall just short of fourth-seed tourney spot

Nick Gerhardt

The stars aligned if only for a moment for Minnesota Friday night against Iowa, but the Gophers could not take advantage of the opportunity in front of them.

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Big ten Tournament
what: Soccer
when: 7 p.m., Thursday
where: Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium

Minnesota (9-8-1 overall, 5-5-0 Big Ten) stood to gain fourth place in the conference with a win over the Hawkeyes (8-7-4 overall, 3-6-0 Big Ten) and Indiana and Ohio State losses.

The Hoosiers and Buckeyes did their part and lost to Purdue and Penn State, but Iowa played spoiler against the Gophers in a 1-0 win.

The Hawkeyes needed a win to secure the final spot in the Big Ten tournament, and had lost six of their last seven games entering Friday, but squeaked out the win.

From the start of the game it looked as if Minnesota would score early and often, but a left-footed rocket from junior forward Lindsey Schwartz ricocheted off the crossbar in the ninth minute and became a common theme of the evening as the Gophers out-shot the Hawkeyes 18-2 but never found the back of the net.

Minnesota appeared sluggish throughout the rest of the first half and the Hawkeyes took advantage on a counterattack when Alexandria Seydel slipped in behind the Gophers defense and sent a cross to the 6-yard box where Stephanie Hyink slammed a short-side shot past junior keeper Lindsay Dare for a 1-0 lead in the 32nd minute of play.

“When they hit that counter and pull us apart, that’s when our three backs get switched out and sometimes they slide them in behind,” freshman defender Kylie Kallman said.

Minnesota turned up the heat on a cold November night by finding their offense in the second half.

The Gophers fired 11 shots in the period and had six corner kicks amid the furious comeback attempt.

“I thought we had a great second-half performance,” coach Mikki Denney Wright said.

Minnesota almost found the equalizer in the 59th minute when freshman Molly Rouse sent a cross into the 18-yard box and the ball found its way to the foot of junior Clare Grimwood who found the twine quickly, but an offsides call negated the goal and left the Gophers scrambling for a game-tying goal.

Minnesota continued to press, racking up five offsides calls in the game, but simply could not find the back of the net.

“We knew we were going to have to finish to beat them and we didn’t finish,” Denney Wright said.

Schwartz tied a career high with six shots in the game, but none of her opportunities remained as good as her first.

“It was very frustrating. The first one hit off the crossbar, but what are you going to do?” Schwartz said. “We had opportunities we just didn’t finish them.”

For Schwartz the poor first half proved just as important as the inability to finish scoring chances.

“I thought we didn’t play that well in the first half, which wasn’t good for us because they capitalized on our mistakes,” she said.

“We knew we couldn’t let down in the first half but we definitely did that here,” Kallman added.

The loss kept the Gophers stuck in sixth place in the conference and set up a rematch against No. 3 seed Illinois for the Big Ten tournament Thursday evening. Minnesota lost 1-0 earlier in the season against the Fighting Illini on their turf, but now the Gophers will have home field advantage for the tournament.

With nine wins in the regular season, Denney Wright tied her best mark as coach for Minnesota.

A 10th win would have meant many things for Denney Wright and the team, but the loss may serve better as a lesson.

“I think it’s a learning experience because we got confidence from the last three games and it (this game) goes to show every Big Ten game is important,” Grimwood said.