Trip to Michigan no longer flanks ‘Easy St.’ for U soccer

by Aaron Kirscht

Michigan can be beautiful this time of year. Sure, the state is famous for its cars, but the scenery in the upper peninsula is what makes Michigan really special.
The Gophers women’s soccer team probably won’t be paying too much attention to the fall foliage when they travel there this weekend, but they should enjoy the trip just the same.
At least it’s been that way in the past.
Minnesota (8-3 overall, 1-2 in the Big Ten) takes on Michigan State (3-8, 0-2) on Friday before heading south to play Michigan (4-4-2, 1-1) on Sunday.
Neither team has beaten the Gophers in seven tries. Michigan State managed a 1-1 tie in the first game of the 1994 season, but since then opponents from the Wolverine State have bowed to Minnesota by a combined score of 16-5.
Those days are long gone, however, and the Gophers are a different team than the one that brought home the Big Ten title last season. Coach Sue Montagne said the 1996 Gophers are having a hard time putting away their opponents, and their numbers support that opinion.
The team is averaging almost one goal less per game than last season, and has scored more than three goals in a game only twice.
Season-ending injuries to two starters from last season — sophomore Noelle Papenhausen and senior Big Ten Player of the Year Jennifer Walek — have played a role in the Gophers’ downturn. Montagne said the rest of the team needs to pick up the slack and that some players aren’t playing up to their potential.
So while the Gophers’ series records with Michigan and Michigan State are impressive, the team is learning an important lesson this season: results aren’t based on old box scores.
Against Minnesota-Duluth on Sunday, a team they beat 9-0 last season, the Gophers failed to score in the first half — a trend that has dominated their play all season — before outlasting the Bulldogs 5-0.
And after winning easily at Northwestern a year ago, the Gophers hosted the Wildcats on Sept. 27 but waited more than 75 minutes before scoring their lone goal of the game.
Normally, a team with an 8-3 record is in pretty good shape. But the Gophers’ losses against Penn State and Wisconsin put them in third place in the conference and would leave them with a lower-than-usual seed heading into the conference tournament.
On paper, the Gophers look like a lock to come out of the swing through Michigan with a pair of much-needed conference wins.
But don’t tell that to any of the players.