Women left out of NCAA tourney

The Gophers’ regular season lacked a signature win.

by Mark Mowery

On Monday night, while conference champions across the country waited confidently, dozens of rooms were filled with anxious soccer players, fidgety coaches and hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. One of those anxious squads was Minnesota (12-5-3 overall, 5-3-2 Big Ten), which, though it rebounded with two wins to close the regular season, had fallen on hard times in the middle of a grueling Big Ten schedule. As a result, the Gophers fate rested in the hands of the NCAAâÄôs 10-member selection committee; a committee that did not see Minnesota as a tournament team, leaving the Gophers out of the tournament field of 64 teams. âÄúTheyâÄôre devastated,âÄù head coach Mikki Denney Wright said. âÄúThey so wanted to continue and thought they made a great case for selection, and they watched two teams they had beaten in Big Ten head-to-head get selected before them. âÄúI feel bad for them because obviously it was a good season âÄî it just wasnâÄôt quite enough in the NCAAâÄôs eyes.âÄù The Gophers had compiled an impressive résumé, including conference wins over Purdue and Wisconsin âÄî both teams that made the tournament âÄî and two conference champions; Kennesaw State, which won the Atlantic Sun Conference and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which won the Horizon League. However, an at-large bid was in doubt entering Monday night after favored teams like Texas A & M, BYU and Central Florida fell to the likes of Oklahoma State, San Diego State and Memphis in their conference tournaments, decreasing the number of available at-large bids. Big Ten teams making the tournament included Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Purdue. MinnesotaâÄôs most pivotal defeat of the season may have been a 2-1 loss to Michigan State in East Lansing on Oct. 25. With a 1-0 lead in the 71st minute of play, lightning struck the Gophers in the form of sophomore forward Laura Heyboer, who had a hand in the SpartansâÄô first goal and scored her own just 90 seconds later to give Michigan State the victory. Though the most recent RPI standings had Minnesota 14 spots ahead of Michigan State, the head-to-head victory may have put the Spartans into the tournament just over the Gophers. âÄúWe had to be probably the last team left out,âÄù Denney Wright said. âÄúLooking at who they left in, I mean, we were right there.âÄù Ultimately, the piece missing from MinnesotaâÄôs body of work was a signature win. âÄúI think it came down to a big winâĦWe left a couple opportunities out there,âÄù Denney Wright said. I think it comes down to Marquette, Georgia, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan State. I know if we win one of those games weâÄôre in and they were all obviously close matches.âÄù Though the lack of selection is devastating, Minnesota looks to use it for future motivation, considering the team returns all but two players next year. âÄúWe had a good year,âÄù Denney Wright said. âÄúTake it as a learning lesson for this group. When it comes down to it, itâÄôs razor thin–the selection– and I know that in the future we have to leave no doubt in the [NCAA’s] mind.âÄù