Soccer opens NCAA tonight against Eagles

by Mark Heller

Exhibit A of what Minnesota knows about Eastern Michigan.
After Tuesday’s practice, some members of the Minnesota soccer team met with reporters.
Nicole Lee and Juli Montgomery sat together on a bottom bleacher when a writer sat down next to them.
Lee asked to see the Eastern Michigan media guide, then Montgomery pointed out that they were looking at the cover of the men’s team.
“Do they have a women’s guide?” Montgomery asked.
The pair flipped the guide over and upside-down and saw the women’s team on the back. Lee finally flipped to a random page.
“So tell me everything you know about them,” the reporter asked.
“What I’m reading right now,” Lee said.
“They’re a determined, blue-collar team,” Montgomery said.
Then they closed the book.
It’s clear Eastern Michigan doesn’t roll off the tongue with the rest of the soccer powers — or any power for that matter.
Nothing like learning on the run.
Here’s what they do know: the Eagles beat Michigan State 1-0 early in the season, the only team these two programs both played against. Minnesota beat the Spartans 2-0.
The Eagles went 17-3-3 on the season, and won the Mid-American conference on penalty kicks after a 0-0, double-overtime championship game.
And they are dedicating their season to Eagles coach Paul Scicluna, who was killed in April when his car went through a median and rolled over. Scott Hall has taken over the team, and was named the MAC’s coach of the year.
“It’s their first time in the tournament so they’re going to be extremely excited,” Gophers coach Sue Montagne said. “They’re going to be ready to play as hard as they can. Their coach died in an accident right before the season started, so they’re kind of playing on the ‘let’s have a great season for him’ kind of thing, and they are.”
Much to Montagne’s surprise, only three teams in the Big Ten made it to the NCAA tournament: conference tournament champion Michigan, plus Penn State and the Gophers.
Unlike the conference tournament, however, Minnesota won’t have to play Thursday if they win Wednesday. Instead, they would have to deal with fourth-seeded Nebraska in Lincoln this weekend.
The possibility of having to play three games in three days prompted Montagne to call her bench a big key last weekend at the Big Ten tournament.
In the wake of their performance against Penn State, the Gophers are expecting their bench to stay in the flow.
“They have more confidence now,” Lee said. “They made a big impact with high intensity, and they worked their butts off.”
So the Gophers still feel the play of the bench is crucial. Junior Erin Holland added that getting a quick lead will be key in the NCAA tournament — whether it’s Nebraska or some team with a two-faced, upside-down media guide.
“It was hard to react (after the Penn State game),” Holland said. “I wanted to cry because we lost, but we played so well. We need to set a fast pace early. It’s our field and we want to be in control.”

Mark Heller covers soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]