Gophers throttle Minnesota-Duluth

Tim Klobuchar

At some point during this season, the Gophers soccer team will have to exorcise the first-half demons that have plagued them all year.
On Sunday against Minnesota-Duluth, however, the second half of the game was more than enough time.
After a scoreless first half in which the Gophers missed several scoring chances, Minnesota exploded for five goals early in the second half and cruised to a 5-0 win before 587 fans at the St. Paul Campus Soccer Field.
Minnesota improved to 8-3 overall, while Division II Minnesota-Duluth fell to 6-5.
All five goals came within 15 minutes of each other, each scored by a different Gophers player. The second half scoring frenzy helped alleviate the memory of an all too familiar first half — plenty of opportunities, no goals — that has been a major reason for the defending Big Ten champions’ struggles this year.
Going into Sunday, Minnesota had only seven goals in the first half all year. That trend figured to change Sunday, considering the Gophers eradicated the Bulldogs 9-0 last year. Gophers coach Sue Montagne planned to use the game as a confidence-booster and get the backups some playing time, and eventually she accomplished that mission.
But it was business as usual in the first half Sunday, as Minnesota banged kicks off the goalpost, missed shots high and wide, and watched Minnesota-Duluth goalie Ginger Jeffrey make diving saves.
“The kids were getting frustrated,” Montagne said. “They were shooting every chance they had instead of letting them build.”
Montagne had been very critical of her team’s performance after last week’s loss to Wisconsin, but instead of lashing into her team at halftime, she tried to encourage them.
“I just told them to relax,” she said. “They came off the field at halftime looking so miserable. I tried to lighten them up.”
Minnesota’s mood improved almost immediately in the second half, thanks to its leading scorer. Senior Erin Hussey launched a shot from near the top of the goalbox that floated into the right side of the net two minutes, 33 seconds into the half.
“It was a relief,” Hussey said of her seventh goal of the season. “In the first half we were getting shots off, but they just didn’t go in. After that goal we got our confidence up.”
Hussey’s score set off a series of four more goals in rapid-fire succession. Nicole Lee, Jennifer McElmury, Corinne Bolder, and Kelly Shea scored in order. And just like that, Minnesota’s mediocre first half was temporarily shoved aside as it finally proved it was the better team.
Although the Gophers struggled to find the back of the net in the first half, the outcome was never in doubt. The game was played almost entirely on Minnesota-Duluth’s side of the field, and the Gophers buried the Bulldogs in shots on goal — 30 to three.
“It was just a matter of time,” Montagne said. “We got a lot better in the second half. We didn’t force as much, and we were able to get a lot of shorter shots.”
Still, Minnesota knows that with four Big Ten games in the next two weeks, and their conference record sitting at 1-2, it won’t be able to afford a shaky first half like Sunday’s and still win.
“Usually in the second half we catch fire,” Hussey said. “Eventually we get the job done, but against a better team we’re not going to get as many chances as we did (Sunday).
“We’re going to have to get it done right away. There’s no third half.”

GAMESUMMARY
Minnesota-Duluth 0 0 — 0
GOPHERS 0 5 — 5

Scoring:
First half — none
Second half — Min, Erin Hussey 7, 47:33. Min, Nicole Lee 7 (Megan Johnson), 52:37. Min, Jennifer McElmury 7 (Corinne Bolder), 53:43. Min, Bolder 2 (Hussey), 58:22. Min, Kelly Shea 1 (McElmury), 62:28.
A-587.