If Minnesota’s soccer team is using its spring schedule as a measuring stick, the Gophers have to feel pretty good about where they stack up.
The Gophers defeated Wisconsin-Milwaukee 1-0 and lost 1-0 to Marquette in the Gopher Spring Classic on Saturday at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium.
Both teams Minnesota faced qualified for the NCAA Tournament last season, with the Golden Eagles advancing as far as the Sweet Sixteen.
The fact that the Gophers were competitive in both games, despite having a shortened lineup, added to the players’ high expectations for the fall season.
Last year, Minnesota had its first winning Big Ten season since 1999.
But next year should be even better, midfielder Clare Grimwood said.
“With our (2006) recruits coming in, it’s going to be a good year next year,” Grimwood said. “It’s going to be even more improvement.”
Minnesota took an early lead against Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a goal minutes into the game. Defender Carlie Edwards played the ball to Lindsey Schwartz, whose shot hit the left post and bounced in the goal.
The Panthers had a chance to tie the game when defender Hailey McCarthy tripped a Wisconsin-Milwaukee player inside the goal box.
But Gophers goalie Lindsey Dare saved Ginny Graczyk’s penalty kick with a diving save to her left.
“These are high-caliber teams so it’s great to measure ourselves up against this kind of competition,” coach Mikki Denney Wright said. “It’s an entirely different ballgame.”
Against the Golden Eagles, Schwartz had two chances on goal in the first half, but both shots sailed over the net.
Marquette scored midway through the second half when Megan Connelly received the ball inside the goal box and scored to the left corner of the net on Gophers keeper Chelsey Turner.
Denney Wright said she is waiting until the fall to decide whether Dare or Turner will be Minnesota’s starting keeper.
“The fall will sort its way out,” Denney Wright said.
“In Division I you need two really good goalkeepers. Ö You need that depth to make Chelsey better and to make Lindsey better and they understand that.”
There will be battles for playing time positions other than goalie as well come fall.
Denney Wright signed the best incoming freshman class in the Big Ten this winter, highlighted by five Soccer Buzz top-100 recruits.
Many of those recruits will challenge for starting positions, something the Gophers are well aware of.
“Our goals are that much higher,” midfielder Kelsey Hood said, who joined Dare on the All-Tournament team. “It’s going to be tough in the fall. It’s going to be competitive. No one’s sure if you have a spot or not.”
Denney Wright said Minnesota has made major strides toward its goals of challenging for a Big Ten Championship and earning a trip to the NCAA Tournament. But there is still a way to go.
“There’s been growth; there’s no doubt about it,” Denney Wright said. “But we want to be dominant and that’s going to take awhile.
“For the first time I think we’re going to have the talent to be able to compete at the top of the Big Ten. Now it’s just going to be up to them.”