Make no mistake: Soccer’s plan for victory

by Adam Fink

Instead of heading straight to the practice field Wednesday, Minnesota’s soccer team gathered to watch a highlight film.

It wasn’t just a normal video review of the previous games.

The Gophers watched every single goal they had allowed and every goal they had scored.

“I would say almost 90 percent of the goals we have been scored on were after mental mistakes,” coach Barbara Wickstrand said.

When the awe of realizing missed opportunities wore off, the players were left with the notion they can compete with any opponent.

“The other teams aren’t better than us,” defender Nicki Burnie said. “We just made mistakes. We can’t do that anymore.”

Heading into Friday’s game against first-place Penn State, Minnesota feels the mistakes have passed and the team will respond to the uphill battle of making the Big Ten conference tournament.

The Gophers (5-6-2, 2-4-1 Big Ten) are in a ninth-place tie, with seven points in the conference.

This weekend is a prime time for the Gophers to move up. Sixth-place Ohio State, the Gophers’ opponent Sunday afternoon, has nine points.

The top eight teams make the Big Ten conference tournament.

Wickstrand and Burnie said this week’s practice was the best of the season.

The Gophers were sharp and consistent, evident when Tuesday’s scheduled two-hour practice only lasted one hour and 15 minutes.

“We took care of business,” Burnie said.

The Gophers also believe a lack of consistency is behind them. Wickstrand cited the Buffalo, Creighton and Northwestern contests as games the Gophers played inconsistently.

But this week, the Gophers worked on leadership on the field.

“We can prepare the players,” Wickstrand said, “but once they get onto the field, it is basically in their hands. They have to execute, make the decisions and control the tempo.”

So what will it take to defeat the Lions and Buckeyes on the road, especially considering the Gophers haven’t had a Big Ten road win since defeating Wisconsin 2-1 on Oct. 14, 2001?

“A 100 percent team effort,” Wickstrand said. “We need high pressure on the ball and a commitment from everyone.”

Although the No. 11 Lions (12-2-2, 6-1) feature an aggressive attack and a solid defense, Minnesota’s confidence has grown throughout the week. The weekend’s goal is nothing less than a split.

“We have pushed each other,” Burnie said. “We want to see some results now.”

Goaltender Marni Prall will make her second consecutive start, against Penn State.

Prall, who has played in the last three games, has been in a heated battle with incumbent Karli Kopietz.

While the coaching staff has said Kopietz is more athletic, Prall has steadily improved and has become a viable option.

On Sunday, Prall was given the start to shake up the goaltending position and reward her hard work.

However, Prall’s start tonight indicates the battle might be more competitive than initially thought.