U soccer back to normal, takes two

Aaron Kirscht

October has been very good to the Gophers women’s soccer team.
After falling 3-1 to Wisconsin Sept. 29 — a loss coach Sue Montagne called embarrassing — Minnesota has rattled off five straight wins, including four against Big Ten opponents.
“I’m proud of the team this weekend,” Montagne said. “We played our style of soccer, which is something we’ve worked on a lot in the last few weeks.”
Montagne’s pride is justified, as Minnesota (12-3 overall, 5-2 Big Ten) finished off the Big Ten regular season by beating Indiana 2-1 on Friday and Ohio State 1-0 on Sunday.
Heading into the final weekend of conference play, Montagne had two expectations of her team: to play a quick-passing possession offense and to avoid getting bullied into changing their game plan to suit the other team.
They did both and solidified their hold on third place in the conference behind Wisconsin and Penn State.
Ohio State went into the weekend tied with the Gophers, but with a 2-1 loss to Penn State the Buckeyes dropped to 3-3 in the conference, one game back of Minnesota.
Their luck would be no better against the Gophers, who have lost only one game at home in the last two years.
While the final score against Ohio State — 1-0 — may look close on paper, the Gophers dictated play on both ends of the field.
“I don’t think there’s any question we dominated the game,” Montagne said. “There were a lot of good things happening out there today — our forwards played well and our defenders were great in the air.”
The game was played almost entirely in the Buckeyes’ zone, thanks to the Gophers’ ability to control the ball with crisp passing.
“It looked good, didn’t it?” said Erin Hussey, who scored the game’s only goal. “We’re learning how everyone plays. We’re really clicking.”
Hussey scored early in the first half on a pinpoint crossing pass by freshman Megan Johnson, who tallied her team-leading ninth assist of the season.
The goal was Hussey’s 10th, which ties her with teammate Jennifer McElmury for the Big Ten lead. Hussey, however, still leads the conference in scoring with 27 points.
Minnesota failed to capitalize on several point-blank scoring chances, however, including a Nicole Lee penalty kick that skipped wide in the second half.
Still, Ohio State had difficulty putting together any serious scoring chances, managing only three second-half shots on goal.
Freshman goalkeeper Dana Larson solidified her grip on the starting position, earning her third shutout of the season. She’s been battling for time with senior Teresa O’Hearn, but Montagne is leaning in Larson’s favor.
“She’s coming up with some big saves,” Montagne said, “and for now that’s who we’re going with.”
Against Indiana on Friday, McElmury played the hero, scoring twice in the Gophers’ 2-1 victory.
But after the game, some said the Hoosiers’ lone goal was tainted.
Jamie Wyffels said Indiana’s Amy Friederich, who was credited with the goal, pushed the ball in the net with her hand.
“I was standing right next to her,” Wyffels said. “She didn’t put it in without using her hand. We’ll have to look at some video and make sure, but it looked that way to all of us.”
In the end, it didn’t matter. With 10 minutes left in the first half, McElmury tied the game off a header from Hussey. McElmury got the game-winner early in the second half, sliding a penalty kick into the left corner of the goal.
“That’s my spot to go to,” McElmury said. “And if I put the ball where I want to put it, the goalie isn’t going to stop it.”
The Gophers admit to playing with a lot of confidence, which should come in handy next weekend. No. 17 Minnesota travels to Madison, Wis., for games against No. 2 North Carolina and Northern Illinois.
North Carolina is a perennial national championship contender, and presents the Gophers with their toughest challenge to date.
SCORING SUMMARIES

Friday’s Game
Indiana 1 0 — 1
Gophers 1 1 — 2
First Half:
Ind — Friederich 6 (Etzkorn) 6, 25:00.
Minn — McElmury 9 (Hussey), 37:40.
Second Half:
Minn — McElmury 10 (unassisted) PK, 48:34.

Sunday’s Game
Ohio State 0 0 — 0
Gophers 1 0 — 0
First Half:
Minn — Hussey 10 (M. Johnson), 44:14.
Second Half:
No Scoring