Unbeaten streak extends to 11

Gophers goalie Cat Parkhill kicks up field Sunday afternoon at the Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.  The Gophers beat Illinois 1-0.

Gophers goalie Cat Parkhill kicks up field Sunday afternoon at the Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. The Gophers beat Illinois 1-0.

Austin Cumblad

The crowd at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium was getting restless. Three days earlier, the 18th-ranked Minnesota womenâÄôs soccer team had opened its Big Ten schedule with a 1-1 draw at Iowa, unable to turn fourteen corners and seven shots on target into more than one goal. So when the clock passed the hour mark and marched toward full time, it started to look like the home crowd was in for a scoreless Sunday. Good chances toward the end of the first half had yielded to a stagnant midfield battle in the second, and even though the Gophers had yet to allow a shot on goal, they looked hardly more likely bag a game-winner. But in the 71st minute, freshman midfielder MacKenzie Misel chased down a loose ball that was nearing the end line and hit a first-time, left footed cross into the box. With miles of space around her, senior Katie Bethke ran onto the ball and headed it coolly inside the near post. This time, one goal was all Minnesota needed and it beat No. 20 Illinois, 1-0. The Gophers are now unbeaten in their last 11, the second longest streak in team history. In 1997, Minnesota went 15 straight without a loss and won the Big Ten regular season title. âÄúWe were able to stay composed in the second half and kept going at the goal and finally we got one in the back of the net,âÄù Bethke said after SundayâÄôs game. The late goal set up a frantic final 20 minutes. Seconds after BethkeâÄôs goal, the IlliniâÄôs Megan Pawloski slipped behind the GophersâÄô back line. Goalkeeper Cat Parkhill came charging out to rescue her defense, however, and plucked the ball off PawloskiâÄôs foot. It would not be the only scare during IllinoisâÄô late game surge, but none of the IlliniâÄôs other chances came as close. Though MinnesotaâÄôs defense technically didnâÄôt allow a shot on goal, that statistic unfairly eschews ParkhillâÄôs importance in the shutout. Head coach Mikki Denney Wright said it was âÄúone of the best games IâÄôve seen her play.âÄù It was also quite a weekend for Gophers freshmen. In her first appearance for Minnesota, Lauren Bauer assisted junior Shari EckstromâÄôs team-leading fifth goal of the season on Thursday against Iowa. Mackenzie Misel also tallied an assist on that goal, then set up BethkeâÄôs game-winner on Sunday. âÄúIâÄôll tell you what, sheâÄôs really come on,âÄù Denney Wright said of Misel. âÄúItâÄôs taken her a little while as a freshman but sheâÄôs playing her best soccer right now and I thought she had an outstanding game.âÄù It is perhaps surprising that youngsters are contributing so much on a team with seven seniors. But center back Jennie Clark is still recovering from a collarbone fracture and midfielder Angie Olson was out most of the weekend fighting the flu. In the ensuing lineup shuffles, freshmen are getting opportunities, and for the most part taking advantage of them. That said, the remaining seniors are hardly wallowing in obscurity. As she has so many times in her career, Bethke played the role of offensive hero on Sunday. And senior defensive midfielder Kylie Kallman was a hero at the other end in the waning minutes against Illinois. Junior center back Tamara Strahota was, for the only time all game, beat one-on-one, but Kallman, playing deep to protect MinnesotaâÄôs lead, ran down the striker to preserve the shutout âÄì and the win. âÄúI didnâÄôt really know if we could get a shutout, because [the Illini] are one of the best attacking teams right now in the Big Ten,âÄù Denney Wright said. âÄúFor us to get a shutout against a team like that, it says a lot about our group and how we defended.âÄù Related: – Gophers vs. Illinois live blogGophers start Big Ten play with target on their back (9/22)