Gophers double last year’s Big Ten win total

In its Big Ten opening weekend Minnesota earned a shutout in two 2-1 and 2-0 wins.

by Nick Gerhardt

Minnesota earned its first weekend sweep in three weeks after another “shutout Sunday” and a bit of a freaky Friday at home this weekend.

The Gophers defeated Michigan State 2-0 in the Sunday tilt after beating Michigan 2-1 Friday night.

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“I don’t even know if we’ve ever swept a weekend in the Big Ten since I’ve been here,” senior Hailey McCarthy said. “It feels great. We doubled our win total from last year.”

They have, but this weekend marked the first time since 1998 that Minnesota (6-3-1 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) has started the Big Ten season with a 2-0 record.

“It was really a big step for our team to sweep a weekend in the Big Ten,” coach Mikki Denney Wright said.

Sophomore Kelly Wepking led the team to victory in both games, tallying her first and second career collegiate goals.

Wepking scored in the fifth minute of Sunday’s game against the Spartans (5-5-1 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) when she fired a shot from 20 yards out into the lower right corner and put the Gophers on the board.

Junior Clare Grimwood scored her third goal of the season in the 33rd minute when she took a pass inside the box from freshman Molly Rouse and finished with a right-footed shot into the left corner of the net for a 2-0 Minnesota advantage.

Amid a second-half monsoon the Gophers defended against the Michigan State pressure to capture their third-straight Sunday shutout and fourth consecutive Sunday win.

“I thought we absorbed the pressure very well,” Denney Wright said. “It’s great to get another shutout.”

Friday night served as an introduction to Big Ten soccer for many of the Minnesota freshmen as the game got physical and unusual events occurred.

“It’s hard beating those Michigan girls. They like to throw elbows, get in your face and knock you down,” Wepking said.

The Wolverines (2-6-0 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) scored the first goal of the game in the 42nd minute of the match when freshman and leading scorer Amanda Bowery was left all alone at the top of the box and connected on a blast into the right corner of the goal.

The Gophers hadn’t trailed in a game since the opening weekend of the year against Tennessee and Central Florida.

Freshman Kylie Kallman learned all about the physical nature of Big Ten play when a Michigan player introduced her elbow to Kallman’s face, which resulted in a bloodied chin for Kallman.

The physical game also sent junior midfielder Kaitlin Wagner to the sideline in the first half with an ankle injury. Denney Wright said Wagner might miss one to two weeks, but Rouse filled in capably in the second half.

Determined to improve upon their first-half performance, Minnesota decided to add an extra attacker in the second half for more offense.

“Our mentality was that the first 15 minutes of the second half we were going to come out, press like crazy and hopefully get a goal,” Wepking said. “I felt like we were going to win.”

The Gophers did strike but it wasn’t in the first 15 minutes. Instead it came 18 minutes into the second half when freshman Katie Bethke ripped a shot from outside the box to even the match.

Then just four minutes later Wepking sounded like Nostradamus when she connected on a cross from Rouse for the game winner.

“Nobody played beautiful soccer, it was a war,” Denney Wright said.

Minnesota will continue on the war path, as their schedule has them facing ranked opponents in its next five games.

“Their whole mission,” Denney Wright said of her team, “is to turn this team into a top team in the Big 10.”