Gophers play their ‘best soccer of the year,’ but drop two games in Indiana

by Bob Wothe

Despite playing what head coach Mikki Denney Wright called their “best soccer of the year,” Minnesota’s soccer team finished the first weekend of the Big Ten season winless.

The Gophers (3-4, 0-2 in the Big Ten) lost a pair of one-goal heartbreakers, 2-1 in overtime to Indiana on Friday and 1-0 to Purdue on Sunday.

The Hoosiers ended the game with 46 seconds to play in the first overtime, after the ball squirted past Gophers goalkeeper Molly Schneider into the waiting feet of Hoosiers reserve defender Jenna Babcock.

“It was a really tight game all the way through, and we were right there the whole way,” Denney Wright said. “Molly came up to clear the ball and sort of just missed it Ö and it trickled into the goal.”

The Hoosiers dominated most of the match as Minnesota managed just one shot on goal – but Laura Hoppe made it count. A deflected corner kick by Becky Dellaria bounced to the top of the box, and the junior defender blasted a shot from 18 yards out through the hands of Indiana goalkeeper Lauren Fabbro in the 19th minute, to give the Gophers an early 1-0 lead.

Less than two minutes later, though, the Hoosiers answered with a corner kick score of their own. Kristin Radcliffe got her head on Ali Brown’s corner and the ball found the back of the net to tie the game. The score remained that way for nearly 80 minutes until Babcock’s goal.

On Sunday versus Purdue, the Gophers took on a team that was 5-0 at home and had won every match in dramatic one-goal fashion. Unfortunately for the Gophers, the Boilermakers were able to keep both streaks alive.

The game was scoreless throughout the first half and well into the second when Purdue defender Kira Bilecky scored on a header in the 84th minute to break the Gophers’ hearts once again. The ball was deflected several times off of a corner kick before Bilecky was able to redirect it past Schneider into the goal.

“The defense was just set up completely wrong and they got a back post goal off of it,” Denney Wright said. “It’s those kinds of mental errors that happen when we’re fatigued that we have to get past.”

The biggest factor in both losses might have been depth. Purdue had nine substitutions to Minnesota’s three, and it might have played a factor in the Indiana loss, too.

“We knew all along that we weren’t going to have a lot of depth,” Denney Wright said. “We need our kids to overachieve, and I know they can do it.”

Purdue outshot the Gophers 22-11, but the Gophers held a 7-2 advantage in shots on goal, led by two apiece from forward Regina Moench and midfielder Kaitlin Neary. But Purdue goalkeepers Lauren Mason and Maureen Carey combined to stop every last one of their attacks.

The Gophers might have been lucky the game was as close as it was, however. The Boilermakers had plenty of scoring chances all game, but Minnesota defender Hailey McCarthy saved an open net scoring chance for the Boilers late in the first half while a free kick from Purdue’s Jordyn Shaffer hit the crossbar early in the second half.

Defender Tierney Palmer-Klein said the team was pleased with the weekend but had some work to do before it plays their first Big Ten home game against Michigan this Friday.

“We definitely need to work on corner kicks and clearing the ball out of the box,” Palmer-Klein said. “They were silly mistakes – we thought we had both games.”

Denney Wright said she is still confident the Gophers are on the right track, though.

“We were right there in both games with good teams,” she said. “We felt great about the way we performed in both games – now it’s just about finding a way to win.”