Minnesota falls in Big Ten Tournament opener

Emily Wickstrom

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – After priding itself on defense all year, it was an uncharacteristic mistake that helped send Minnesota’s soccer team home from the Big Ten Tournament.

The Gophers lost 1-0 on Thursday to Illinois in the first round of the conference tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich.

In the 30th minute of the game’s first half, Illini forward Jessica Bayne deflected an attempted clear from Minnesota goalie Molly Schneider into the goal for the game-winning score.

Even without the goal, the Gophers started the game slowly, spending most of the first half trying to clear the ball from their own defensive end.

“I thought the first 20 minutes were pretty bad,” Minnesota coach Mikki Denney Wright said. “After they scored, we settled down a little bit.”

And although the Gophers’ play improved in the second half, winning balls and connecting passes, they still failed to produce anything offensively.

Illinois outshot Minnesota 21-4 in the game without consistently dominating play. Most of the Illini’s shots sailed clear of the goal or went right to Schneider, who finished with six saves.

Freshman Lindsey Schwartz had the Gophers’ only shot on goal. Freshman Kaitlin Wagner led Minnesota with two shots.

“To be honest, neither team had any great scoring opportunity,” Denney Wright said. “They scored off a bad goal Ö and other than that, I thought our defense held. We just weren’t able to score.”

The Gophers’ best chances came toward the end of the match, when they had two corner kicks in a row, neither of which produced a shot on goal.

Senior defender Nicki Burnie said she was frustrated that Minnesota waited until the end of the game to play how the team should have from the start.

“The last 20 minutes is when we started to pick it up,” Burnie said. “But the last 20 minutes of the game isn’t how you play soccer. You play soccer the whole 90 minutes.”

Three Minnesota players received yellow cards – Burnie, Megan Fightmaster and Marti Klinsing – in a game called closer than the Gophers are accustomed to.

“It just seemed like Illinois wanted it more,” Schwartz said. “We wanted it more in the second half, but they obviously wanted it more from the start, and they got a goal.”

Gophers honored

Four Gophers received honors Tuesday when the Big Ten awards were announced.

Schneider was named to the All-Big Ten first team after leading the conference in saves, while defender Burnie was named to the second team.

Kelsey Hood and Clare Grimwood were both honored as members of the all-freshmen team.

Penn State’s Tiffany Weimer was named conference Player of the Year for the second straight season.