Gophers travel to Indiana for first conference games

Denney Wright’s team begins anew after winning two Big Ten games last year.

by Bob Wothe

The last time Minnesota’s soccer team swept a weekend road series was in 2000, when the Gophers downed Indiana and Purdue en route to a 5-5-0 conference mark.

This year, as the Gophers set out to regain Big Ten credibility, they open up Big Ten play with that very same duo.

On the final leg of a three-weekend, six-game road trip, the Gophers take on the Hoosiers tonight in Bloomington, Ind., and then travel up Interstate 65 to play Purdue on Sunday afternoon.

Minnesota, currently 3-2, can pull within one win of its overall win total and equal its conference win total of last year with a sweep.

Sophomore forward Haley Lentsch, who ranks third in the Big Ten in shots per game, is certainly confident.

“We beat Indiana last year, and I think we can do it again,” Lentsch said. “We’re really hoping it’s a for-sure win.”

Calling the game a “for-sure win” might be a stretch, however. Indiana is 4-1 and ranked eighth in the NSCAA Great Lakes Regional Rankings after a 1-0 upset win over then-nationally-ranked Auburn. The Hoosiers are led by midfielder Kim Grodek, a first-team Great Lakes All-Regional player who is tied for second in the Big Ten with 13 points on five goals and three assists.

“I really think Grodek is the best midfielder in the entire Big Ten,” Gophers head coach Mikki Denney Wright said. “We’ll have a real challenge with her.”

Aside from Grodek’s offensive talent, Indiana’s defense and goalkeeping have been solid as well. Their goals-allowed total is second in the Big Ten at just three in five games.

The game certainly could be of the 1-0 variety, though, as Minnesota’s goalkeeper Molly Schneider is tied for the Big Ten lead in shutouts with three; allowing five goals in five games.

On the other hand, Purdue (4-2) is eighth in goals allowed in the Big Ten but ranked ninth in the NSCAA Great Lakes Regional Rankings.

“Purdue is really, really physical,” Lentsch said. “We’re going to have to get tough for that one.”

The Boilermakers, who have shut out the Gophers in three consecutive matches dating back to October 2000, are a bit shorthanded though, as they lost senior forward and captain Lauren Sesselmann for the season with a sprained ligament in her left foot.

Sesselmann led the team to a 14-6-3 record and the third round of the NCAA Tournament with 10 goals in 2003. Her injury leaves only four Boilermaker starters from the 2003 team on the pitch.

As usual, though, the Gophers refuse to worry about the other team too much, and are simply focused on playing their brand of soccer.

“Soccer is all about imposing your style on the other team,” Denney Wright said. “We want to impose ourselves on them – that’s the key for us.”