Hot Gophers earn pair of wins on the road

by Nick Gerhardt

A solid weekend has Minnesota liking where they stand in the Big Ten as the regular season comes to a conclusion.

The Gophers (9-7-1 overall, 4-3 Big Ten) defeated Northwestern and Wisconsin for their first weekend road sweep since 2005 and moved into a tie for fifth place in the conference.

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what: Soccer
when: 7 p.m., Friday
where: Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium

Junior Lindsey Schwartz carried Minnesota to victory in both games as she scored the game winner in each game.

“She’s been due; she’s worked so hard,” coach Mikki Denney Wright said.

Schwartz was overdue as she hadn’t recorded a conference goal since Oct. 23, 2005 and last scored a goal on Sept. 23 this season against Northeastern.

Against the Wildcats (8-6-4 overall, 3-4-2 Big Ten) Friday Schwartz connected after freshmen midfielder Molly Rouse sent a cross into the box and Schwartz got a foot on the ball to send it past Northwestern keeper Lauren Johnston in the 77th minute for the 1-0 victory.

The Wildcats decided to use a 3-5-2 formation in order to counter the Gophers’ attack, but Denney Wright one-upped them by switching to a 3-4-3 formation in the middle of the first half with sophomore Sara Clancy coming off the bench as the third forward.

Clancy added much needed pressure to the Minnesota attack and her hard work paid off: She gave the Gophers a boost off the bench, helping Schwartz to find the net.

“Clancy did a great job of pressing and causing havoc up top,” junior midfielder Kaitlin Wagner said.

The Minnesota defense looked strong again Friday and only gave up four shots on goal.

“We played really great 90-minute soccer. The defense stepped up,” Denney Wright said. “The freshmen have grown every week and gotten better and better.”

Junior Lindsey Dare started her third consecutive game in goal and made four saves on the evening while improving her record to 2-1 on the season by earning her second shutout.

“Lindsey held us in the game. They had their chances but Dare shut them down,” Wagner said.

Dare brings a calm demeanor to the backline and the defense has flourished under her guidance.

“She is a great leader who brings confidence and a lot of composure,” Denney Wright said.

While Dare had her work cut out for her Friday, Wisconsin proved a different story Sunday.

The Gophers grabbed a 1-0 lead in the 40th minute when freshman Katie Bethke sent a cross toward the box and Schwartz leaped and headed the ball off the crossbar and into the net for her eighth goal of the year and second game winner in as many days.

The Badgers (6-10 overall, 2-7 Big Ten) didn’t mount much of an offensive threat all afternoon as they only tallied eight shots and none of them on goal.

Officially Dare had no saves for the game, but she did face some opportunities late in the game.

The Gophers drew 19 fouls, some of which set up quality opportunities for Wisconsin, but Dare organized the defense on free kicks and Minnesota withstood the barrage.

“They (the defense and Dare) made some big plays and cleared the ball well,” Schwartz said.

The much improved play of the defense has the team in high spirits as they now have a three-game winning streak and a chance to move into fourth place in the Big Ten with a win over Iowa this weekend.

“We’re fighting for points and standings. Iowa is fighting for a spot in the Big Ten tournament. It’s not going to be an easy game,” Denney Wright said.