Soccer can finish 8th, but tourney chances gone

By rule, tournament host Wisconsin will make the conference tournament regardless of Friday’s result.

Adam Fink

Oh, so close.

Minnesota’s soccer team will not make the Big Ten conference tournament for the third consecutive year, and the Gophers don’t have to look far for reasons why.

Oct. 12, the Gophers tied last-place Iowa 2-2. One week later against Ohio State, Minnesota (5-8-2, 2-6-1 Big Ten) lost in overtime.

Also, don’t forget about the mental lapses that caused early game deficits.

In a season of near misses, the 10-place Gophers conclude their Big Ten season Friday against Wisconsin at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.

“It sucks,” Gophers coach Barbara Wickstrand said. “Not one of these kids knows what it is like or what they are missing.”

The ninth-place Badgers (7-8-1, 3-6) will make the tournament as the eighth – and final – seed regardless of the outcome Friday.

Because Madison, Wis., will host the tournament starting Nov. 6, Wisconsin automatically gets to participate and will knock out the eighth-place team.

Wisconsin coach Dean Duerst believes the school hosting the Big Ten conference tournament should automatically get a berth.

“It’s the best thing for the tournament,” the 10th-year Badgers coach said. “The host school works hard in planning and coordination, and it is only fair they go.”

Minnesota co-captain Amanda McMahon and midfielder Anna Nudell Lee will never know the feeling.

The seniors will take the field for their final Minnesota career home game.

“It has gone by so quickly,” said Nudell Lee, who starts Friday for only the fifth time this year. “There has been no time to stop and think about (my career at Minnesota).”

In their final three games, which includes two nonconference games next weekend, the Gophers hope to build for next season.

Three wins to end the year would give Minnesota its first .500 or better record since 1999, when the Gophers were 13-9.

Not only do the Gophers want to improve on last year’s win total (seven), but they want to start gaining momentum for 2004.

Minnesota will return its entire team except Nudell Lee and McMahon, who have combined for five of the team’s 20 goals.

Both transferred to Minnesota after beginning their careers elsewhere.

In addition to finishing the season with program pride, Wickstrand doesn’t want the team to forget about this year.

“We didn’t take advantages of our opportunities, and we played inconsistent,” Wickstrand said. “The challenge and key for us is to remember how this feels.”

Maybe next year it won’t come down to the final game or matter who hosts the tournament.

Kopietz out, Prall to start

Goaltender Karli Kopietz, who started Minnesota’s first 12 games, will not play Friday night.

Junior Marni Prall will get her fourth straight start in the goal for Minnesota.

Kopietz, who missed last weekend’s road trip because of academics, also missed practice this week to study.