Big Ten tournament berth on the line for soccer

Jabari Ritchie

Mired in a three-game losing streak and coming off one of its worst showings of the season, this weekend’s games against Northwestern and Wisconsin could be Minnesota’s most important series of the year.

Winning Friday’s homestand-ending match against the Wildcats (2-7-1, 1-4-1) and Sunday’s game at Wisconsin (4-6-2, 1-4-1) would put Minnesota (3-7, 2-4) in good shape to reach its eighth-consecutive Big Ten tournament.

If the Gophers lose, however, they would be closer to missing the tournament for the first time in program history.

“It’s a huge weekend for us,” defender Katherine Arndt said after Minnesota was swept by Indiana and Purdue last week. “(Last weekend) was a big weekend too, but we didn’t come out like we should have. We’ve got to show them our stuff.”

The top eight teams of the conference qualify for the tournament, which is being held at Purdue in November. Now, more than halfway through their Big Ten schedule, the Gophers are in eighth place – with the Badgers and Wildcats just one point behind.

Sweeping the series would force Wisconsin or Northwestern to win all of its remaining games – which include matches against seventh-ranked Penn State and each other. Ohio State, which is in 11th place, is also still in position to pass Minnesota.

“Last weekend was a hard one for us to suffer as far as the Big Ten season goes and as far as our team goes individually,” sweeper Samantha Meyers said. “This weekend we know we have to come out strong. That’s not going to be the issue… I feel real good about this weekend and I think we’ll come away with two wins.”

For the Gophers to win their last home game in over two weeks Friday, they will need to clean up defensive errors that plagued the team last weekend and put more pressure on goal.

“I’m more concerned with the way we play than the end result, because if we play as hard as we can the end result will probably be positive,” said coach Barbara Wickstrand. “We’re going to need to play tougher and we need to play more as a team. We just can’t be a few individuals out there.”

Northwestern, which has not scored in four games, is the only team in the conference to have scored as few goals – five – as Minnesota has this season. The Wildcats have been shut out seven times.

But despite having trouble finding goals, Northwestern can be a threat. The Wildcats have lost five games by one goal and have fared well versus teams the Gophers struggled against. Northwestern beat Purdue, tied Indiana and lost to Brigham Young 1-0. Those teams outscored Minnesota 9-1.

Although the Badgers have struggled against Big Ten opponents, Wisconsin has not been an easy team to beat this year.

Wisconsin had been ranked in the top 25 and tied fifth-ranked Notre Dame (9-1-1) before failing to win its first four conference games. The Badgers lead their series with Minnesota 7-4 and won last season’s meeting 4-2.

“(This weekend is) huge,” Wickstrand said. “They’re two Big Ten teams and rivals. We’re going to have to be prepared.”

 

Jabari Ritchie covers soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]