Gophers drop out of title race

Jim Schortemeyer

Just as one good turn can lead to another, one bad turn led to another for the Minnesota women’s soccer team this weekend.
The Gophers’ hopes for a repeat Big Ten championship were on the line in Friday’s game with Penn State, and for the most part, Minnesota rose to the occasion. Stuck with the task of defeating sixth-ranked Penn State, the Gophers played the Lions close before falling 3-2 in overtime.
Upon returning home Sunday to play Ohio State, Minnesota didn’t seem up to the challenge.
“We needed that (Penn State) game if we were going to win the Big Ten,” coach Sue Montagne said. “And I don’t know if that took the wind out of us for this (Ohio State) game.”
It was evident early on that the Gophers were playing flat. The Buckeyes took advantage of the lull in Minnesota activity, and nearly buried a quick a shot in the back of the net.
Although the Gophers’ level of play improved throughout the game, it was clearly nowhere near the effort put forth against Penn State Friday. Montagne admitted that the loss to the Lions probably played a big factor in the loss to the Buckeyes Sunday.
The rough weekend left the Gophers’ Juli Montgomery wondering what to do next.
“For sure we’re all angry right now,” Montgomery said. “It was so unexpected, we don’t really know what to do right now.”
The Gophers have plenty to be angry about. Their defense allowed 43 shots this weekend, and the offense was shut down by the Buckeyes, whose goalie was ranked ninth in goals-against average coming into the weekend.
Criticism was quick to come from inside the team. Captain Vanessa Touset gave an emotional postgame speech to her team, that dealt with having faith.
“Last year there was never even a mindset to lose,” Touset said. “This year we go into each game hoping we win.”
Touset went on to try and explain the difference between Friday’s game and Sunday’s.
“Friday we looked like an NCAA Division I team,” Touset said. “I don’t know what we looked like today.”
The players aren’t the only ones grappling with what happened to a team that has never had a losing record in the Big Ten, and never had more than seven losses in a season. Montagne is searching for answers herself.
“We haven’t had five losses in I can’t remember how many years,” Montagne said. “To have five losses and still have three weekends to play is just unbelievable right now.”
With the exception of the game against the Buckeyes, Minnesota’s losses have all been against opponents who were ranked at one point in the season.
Although the outlook seems bleak, the remaining six opponents of the Gophers are less than stellar. One team, UNLV, is in its first season, and with the exception of 16th-ranked Indiana (who lost to Michigan this weekend) none of the teams are ranked.
That’s a small consolation to a team with three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. The worst record Minnesota had in that span was a 13-7 mark in 1996.
If the Gophers hope to go to the NCAAs, they need to get hot in a hurry, or hope to win the automatic berth reserved for the Big Ten Tournament champion.
Montagne seemed emotionally drained after the weekend’s losses and issued a challenge to her team to get their act together.
“We as coaches try and instill a work ethic and a heart, and if they don’t have it, they have to find it,” Montagne said. “They’ve got to decide.”