Gophers inching closer to ending tourney drought

Emily Wickstrom

The seniors on Minnesota’s soccer team never have played in any kind of postseason tournament with the team.

That could change this season.

The Gophers are tied for third in the Big Ten with a surprising 3-1 record, already surpassing last year’s conference win total of two. That record was good for 10th place in league – two spots out of the conference tournament.

And three wins with six games to play puts Minnesota in great position to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2000, which was one of the Gophers’ goals from the beginning of the season.

“Last year, it seemed like we were right on the cusp of winning games,” senior goalkeeper Molly Schneider said. “And this year we’re finally putting it away. We’re definitely improving and moving up.”

Historically, a team has needed four conference wins to finish in the top eight in the Big Ten and make the tournament, Gophers coach Mikki Denney Wright said.

Indiana was the eighth and final team to qualify last year, with a 3-5-2 conference record.

But Denney Wright still said she feels her team needs one more win to make it official.

“We have to win Friday (against Iowa) to secure (the Big Ten Tournament),” she said.

Minnesota players said they feel good about their chances to qualify, but are a little hesitant.

“I think we definitely can (make the conference tournament)”, freshman forward Marti Klinsing said. “We have a few games coming up that we can definitely win Ö but we don’t want to be overconfident.”

The Big Ten Tournament might be close to a sure thing, but for the Gophers to accomplish one of their other goals – qualifying for the NCAA tournament – they will have to

win more than just one of their six remaining conference games.

Last year, the top five Big Ten finishers qualified for the NCAA tournament.

“To get considered (for the NCAA tournament), we’ll have to win three of the next six games,” Denney Wright said. “With six wins in the conference you figure you’re going to go.

“But I’ve been on the other side of that and you never know.”

The Gophers’ early conference success gained the team recognition in the Big Ten and in the nation, as they stand

seventh in the Great Lakes region in the Soccerbuzz.com rankings.

Although Denney Wright said she does not put much stock in the rankings, she said her team still appreciates the acknowledgement.

“It’s nice for our team to get some recognition – to be back on the map,” she said. “But in the end it matters what happens at the end of the year.”