occer looks to stop see-saw season

Monica Wright

If revenge is a dish best served cold, the Minnesota soccer team will settle for lukewarm.
This weekend the Gophers return to Evanston, Illinois, and the demons that still haunt them — in the form of two painful nonconference losses two weeks ago.
Once there, Minnesota hopes to trade their previous inconsistency for two wins against conference foes Northwestern and Michigan.
“It’s frustrating when you’re playing well but goals aren’t being scored so you have nothing to back that up,” senior Sarah FitzGerald said. “We look to our coaches too much, we need to play more like we did on Friday when everything clicked.”
Friday’s match was a lesson in redemption for the Gophers, who trounced Iowa 5-1, scoring more goals in one game than they had all season.
Five different players found the net, including three underclassmen, as Minnesota’s offense easily dominated the Hawkeyes.
But Sunday seemed a throwback to the non-conference losses as the Gophers struggled to score points despite numerous shots.
Coach Barbara Wickstrand blames the inconsistency on her veteran players, who she said are accountable for leading the team into battle.
“I spoke with the upperclassmen and made them more responsible for setting the tone of the game, which they need to do from the beginning,” Wickstrand said.
“The younger players will feed off that, especially in the middle where we need more consistency which we haven’t had.”
Adding to the trouble is the loss of junior Juli Montgomery, an all-Region and all-Big Ten defender, to a broken fibula. Montgomery, who had started every game of her collegiate career and played every minute this season, will be out three to six weeks.
The injury, caused during the Iowa match when Montgomery and teammate Allyson Brodie collided chasing down a loose ball, has caused some restructuring on the field.
With junior Samantha Meyers taking over sweeper duties with impressive results, Montgomery may return in a new offensive position, something Wickstrand had hoped to try before the injury.
“I have wanted to put Juli in a more offensive role since the beginning but I didn’t have anyone who could fulfill her position, but Sam has,” Wickstrand said.
“Julie can play anywhere, she’s offensive-minded and in a sense was wasted in the back. She’s aggressive and will be a great tool in the midfield.”
With the new setup, Friday’s game against Northwestern will be a test of offenses. The Wildcats, like Minnesota, have had trouble scoring goals, tying the Gophers with just nine this season.
The Wolverines are also mirroring Minnesota. After suffering an early season three-game losing streak, they have returned to beat nationally ranked Indiana and Missouri.
But Wickstrand pays little attention to the competition, hoping instead her team will forget about their past incompatibility in exchange for more energy and attitude on the field.
“It doesn’t give you confidence if the A team plays Friday and the B team plays Sunday,” Wickstrand said. “We’re young and if upperclassmen don’t set the pace it’s hard to pull together; the freshmen and sophomores are looking for role models on the field.”

Monica Wright covers soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]