Minnesota plays old rivals, new opponents

The Gophers will travel to Wisconsin on Thursday, then take a break from Big Ten play at home against South Dakota on Sunday.

Brittany Storoz

The old mixes with the new for the University of Minnesota, as they play a Big Ten game against its most frequent rival followed by a new non-conference border battle. The Gophers (7-2-2 overall, 1-0-1 Big Ten ) will travel to Wisconsin on Thursday for the second weekend of Big Ten play. The Badgers (5-4-2, 1-0-1) , currently hold the lead in the series, 10-9, and Minnesota will look to even the score this weekend. Last yearâÄôs matchup resulted in a 2-1 win for the Gophers but was overshadowed by a combined 23 fouls and eight yellow cards. Though head coach Mikki Denney Wright attributed the high number of yellow cards to a referee that lost control of the game, she said the team will still be expecting a physical game. The two teams go into the game with identical conference records (1-0-1), but the Badgers have been slow to score this season having seen the net only twice in a first half . Getting off to a slow start could be disastrous for Wisconsin, as Minnesota has scored quickly in most games this season. âÄúThis year weâÄôve been really good at coming out strong in the beginning of the games âĦ so I think itâÄôll be hard for them to even come out in the second half,âÄù junior midfielder Julie Rezac said. This season Minnesota has scored nine goals in the first half and 11 in the second âÄî a total that doubles Wisconsin. Junior forward Katie Bethke leads the Gophers with six goals , twice that of the BadgerâÄôs leading scorer , Laurie Nosbusch. Defensively, MinnesotaâÄôs advantage is just as strong. The Gophers have given up just eight goals to WisconsinâÄôs 16 , with redshirt freshman goalkeeper Cat Parkhill posting six shutouts. Badgers junior goalkeeper Michele Dalton has two shutouts and 47 saves , but Wisconsin has been performing stronger in Big Ten play than statistics might show. In the opening weekend, Wisconsin tied No. 12 Purdue âÄî the highest ranked Big Ten team. The Badgers upset Indiana later that weekend, who has also received votes in the national rankings. âÄúI definitely think theyâÄôre going to come out on fire,âÄù Bethke said. âÄúThis past weekend was a great weekend for them.âÄù New border battle The Gophers will take a break from conference play on Sunday when they host South Dakota at 1 p.m. Instead of taking the Sunday off, Minnesota slipped the non-conference game into its schedule to prevent too long of a layoff, which Denney Wright said would have hurt the teamâÄôs rhythm. The Coyotes (2-6-1) are in their second year of transitioning to the Division I level which has them facing some tougher opponents. Minnesota is no exception and holds an overpowering statistical advantage. USD has just eight goals for the season, six of which came from junior midfielder Katie Quinones . Quinones will be the CoyotesâÄô best chance to score if she can beat the GophersâÄô back line that has kept all opponents to just 39 shots on net this season. The Coyotes have been scoreless in four of nine games, losing by deficits as large as nine goals . For a Minnesota offense that has had trouble finishing scoring opportunities, this game could be a good chance to tighten up the loose ends, Bethke said. South Dakota junior goalkeeper Jennifer Ogren has 54 saves for the season but has also given up 16 goals . Sharing some minutes with sophomore goalkeeper Taura Truba , the team has given up a total 34 goals . Denney Wright said securing the win against USD will be just as important as the Wisconsin game, so neither will be taken lightly. âÄúLosing that game could kill us for the NCAA tournament,âÄù Denney Wright said. âÄúYou need to have good wins, but you also canâÄôt have bad losses.âÄù