Soccer hopes to recover with weekend set

by Mark Heller

A slew of Minnesota soccer players walked toward the practice field on Tuesday. More than half of them strolled with their heads down with funereal facial expressions.
After practice, the players were more winded, talkative and jovial walking back to the team van.
When asked about the team’s apparent persona reversal, Noelle Papenhausen thought it was nerves from being “fitness day” — a day of hard training.
Perhaps so, or maybe it was last weekend’s sweep by Ohio State and Penn State that still resonates in their psyche.
“We all laughed about it, but Ohio State was this Twilight Zone atmosphere,” Gophers coach Sue Montagne said. “Nicole Lee scored and it was kind of like ‘Oh.’ There wasn’t this big hype like ‘Hey we just scored only ten minutes into the game, yeah!’ We were back on our heels and not going to the ball. Ohio State was just running by us and passing by us.
“We got shelled, just literally shelled. And it truly was a matter of time before they scored.”
The 2-1 loss to the Buckeyes Friday was their seventh one-goal game of the season. The Gophers are 4-3 in one-goal games.
Unfortunately for Minnesota (5-5, 3-3 in the Big Ten), that’s a better record than their conference or overall standings. This weekend’s home games against Indiana and Purdue are the beginning of a five-game (four in the conference) homestand. The Gophers will host No. 22 Michigan on Oct. 15, Illinois State on Oct. 17 and end their home season Oct. 22 against Wisconsin.
That gives Minnesota four conference games to stay alive or move up in the Big Ten tournament field. The top eight teams in the conference are invited to Bloomington, Ind. Nov. 5-7.
The Gophers are tied for sixth with Illinois, one game ahead of the eighth-seed Hoosiers (2-5, 1-2) and two games ahead of the struggling Boilermakers.
“In terms to record-wise this is not where we wanted to be,” senior midfielder Jamie O’Gara said. “We’re still working out the kinks, and I’d much rather be a better team at the end of the season than the beginning. If we’re 5-5 now and can end up 13-5 and be in the NCAAs now, I’d much rather lose those five games early than later in the season.”
Her reference of going from 5-5 to 13-5 is based on last season, when Minnesota won its last eight games before losing in the first round of the Big Tens in overtime to: Indiana.
In that game, the Gophers came back from a 2-0 deficit, outshooting the Hoosiers 18-3 in the game and 7-0 in the overtimes. But Indiana won 5-4 on penalty kicks to advance.
Revenge anyone?
“Yeah, we came out so strong in that game,” senior forward Megan Johnson said. “It’s been frustrating not seeing the confidence in people (on the team). We need some wins to get our confidence back up.”

Mark Heller covers women’s soccer and welcomes comments at [email protected]