With the season dwindling down, the GophersâÄô soccer team found itself tied for seventh place in the Big Ten standings, fighting to stay in position to be one of the eight teams invited to the Big Ten Tournament.
Minnesota (7-9-2, 4-4-2 Big Ten) welcomed Indiana and Purdue to Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium this past weekend. The Gophers defeated the Hoosiers on Friday 3-1 before falling to the Boilermakers on Sunday 2-1.
Following the weekend split, the Gophers are tied for fifth in the conference with one game remaining.
Playing two teams that were below them in the standings, Minnesota went into the weekend hoping for a sweep to solidify its spot in the tournament.
âÄúThis is must-win time, you know, our backâÄôs against the wall,âÄù said head coach Mikki Denney Wright. âÄúAs we said, you must rise up and get points, and we need a lot of them because itâÄôs a dog fight.âÄù
Friday night the Gophers took an early lead in the first half when Taylor Uhl out-hustled the HoosiersâÄô defense to the endline and passed the ball back to Nicole Baier who housed the ball in the open net in the 16th minute.
âÄúIt was an awesome pass back by Taylor and I just got the right placement and had a good shot, it was a good run up on it,âÄù Baier said.
Before the half, Minnesota went up 2-0 when freshman Katie Thyken had a run similar to UhlâÄôs and found senior Shari Eckstrom, who put it in the back right corner of the net in the 31st minute.
âÄúLately IâÄôve been feeling wide open at the top of the box and as the ball gets deep to the endline the defense kind of gets low and I was wide open at the top,âÄù Eckstrom said. âÄúThyken found me up top and I just took a [redirection] touch across my body and hit it far post, I was kind of off balance but it went in, so a goalâÄôs a goal.âÄù
Minnesota extended the lead to 3-0 in the second half when Thyken took another back pass from Uhl and scored in the 75th minute.
Uhl, the GophersâÄô leading goal scorer, had two assists Friday.
âÄúThere were so many kids that played really well tonight,âÄù Denney Wright said Friday. âÄúThere wasnâÄôt a kid on the field that I thought had a below-average performance.âÄù
The Gophers failed to get the shutout, however. IndianaâÄôs Rebecca Dreher headed a corner kick past GophersâÄô goalie Cat Parkhill near the end of regulation in the 77th minute.
Minnesota had a plethora of shots on net, putting 10 on frame. Indiana only managed four shots on net and Parkhill had three saves.
The two-goal win was the first win by more than one goal for the Gophers in the Big Ten season. A 3-0 loss to Michigan State and a 5-0 win over South Dakota State are the only other games this season that have been decided by more than one goal.
âÄúI think it all comes down to performance; I give our team a lot of credit. They absolutely stepped it up a notch [Friday] âÄî we were a different team,âÄù Denney Wright said. âÄúWeâÄôve grown and grown and theyâÄôve kind of been waiting for a performance like this; I was so excited about the way we played.âÄù
Amid dreary conditions Sunday afternoon, the Gophers lost to Purdue.
The Boilermakers handled the constant drizzle that persisted throughout the first half and took a 2-0 lead into halftime.
âÄúWe got in a hole early and thatâÄôs tough,âÄù Denney Wright said. âÄúWe tried to grind back from a two-goal deficit, and we did about all we could as far as numbers and different tactical things, but youâÄôve got to put it in the back of the net.âÄù
In the 12th minute, Kellie Phillips scored her eighth goal of the season, which put Purdue up 1-0.
Mollie Kuramoto housed a corner kick in the 44th minute. The ball was juggled around the box before she buried it.
The goal was the third shot that resulted from the corner âÄî one went off the crossbar and one was saved by Thyken.
Minnesota drew to within one in the 80th minute when Uhl headed a corner into the upper-right corner.
The Gophers continued to create opportunities throughout the remainder of the game, but did not score.
âÄúWe certainly could have got the second [goal] and made it a game,âÄù Denney Wright said. âÄúFor a second half on a Sunday a couple goals behind, I thought we gave a good effort.âÄù
The easiest way for the Gophers to qualify for the Big Ten tournament is to win their way in when they play Nebraska at home Friday. However, there are numerous other scenarios that could play out.
Minnesota could lose its final game, but, with help from other teams, still make the tournament.
Penn State clinched the top seed in the tournament Sunday with its 4-0 victory over Michigan.