Gophers hoping to sweep weekend

by Emily Wickstrom

When Big Ten play begins in two weeks, Minnesota’s soccer team will often be the underdog against ranked and more-experienced opponents.

But that will not be true in this weekend’s games, when the Gophers (2-1-1) play at Northern Iowa on Friday and host South Dakota State on Sunday. Minnesota is expected to beat both teams.

“It’s not a ‘We should win,'” senior Laura Hoppe said. “We have to win both of (the games).”

The Gophers are coming off a successful road trip last weekend against Big 12 teams, where they tied Baylor 1-1 and defeated Texas Tech 2-0.

And while this weekend’s games are not expected to be as close, Minnesota coach Mikki Denney Wright said she wants to make sure her team does not overlook the competition.

“These teams are just as important (as Big Ten teams),” Denney Wright said. “We need to work on taking care of the details. (Northern Iowa and South Dakota State) will challenge us.”

One thing the Gophers, who start six freshmen, have in common with both teams is relative inexperience.

South Dakota State has six freshmen in its rotation, while Northern Iowa plays eight underclassmen.

Minnesota players said they will use both games to work on building their team chemistry, having played together for only three weeks.

“Since we’re so young, we’re working on having everyone be on the same page and knowing how to play with each other,” freshman Kelsey Hood said. “That’s the biggest part in taking the next step.”

But the most important thing for Minnesota is picking up two victories.

“When you’re pretty confident that you’re going to take a game, you’re just excited to win,” Hoppe said.

Sunday’s game at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium will be a homecoming of sorts for the Gophers, who have played all of their regular season and exhibition games on the road so far.

“The atmosphere is so much fun,” Hood said. “We have one of the best stadiums in the nation, so it’s about time we use it.”