Minnesota opens season with a pair of losses in tough Tennessee tournament

by Nick Gerhardt

Ten years ago Minnesota hosted the Big Ten soccer championship tournament and won the conference. This year they look to repeat that performance as they host the tournament once again.

The Gophers return to the pitch with a young squad and a strong defense but desperately need to find a finisher to put goals in the net.

“This year is going to be a lot about attacking,” junior captain Kelsey Hood said.

Coach Mikki Denney Wright feels like the team can grow this season and begin to compete against teams in the conference.

“We’re waiting to see who the goal scorers are going to be on this team but this is the most excited I’ve been for awhile,” Denney Wright said. “We have a lot of talent on this team.”

Minnesota (0-2 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) started the new soccer season last weekend with a trip to Tennessee to play in the 2007 Lady Vol Classic and to see where they stand in college soccer.

The Gophers faced the University of Central Florida in their first game and geared up against host Tennessee in the second.

Minnesota looked to get off on the right foot Friday night by sending balls to the back of the net, a serious problem last season as the Gophers scored only three goals in 10 conference games last season.

Minnesota assaulted Central Florida’s goalkeeper with shots but only managed one goal in a 2-1 defeat. The Knights’ Jennifer Manis made a career high 12 saves in the game.

The Gophers offensive onslaught registered 30 shots and set a Minnesota record with 18 corner kicks in the match.

Junior Lindsey Schwartz put Minnesota on the board in the 89th minute when she sent a shot past Manis from 25 yards out. Schwartz led the team with six shots in the game.

Sunday afternoon the Gophers lost the offensive spark against No. 24 Tennessee.

The Lady Vols took the lead in the 25th minute on a penalty kick when Minnesota tripped a Vol in the penalty box. Tennessee hung on to win the game as Minnesota could not mount an offensive threat.

The Gophers managed just seven shots, just three of those were on goal.

Schwartz, a forward, recorded two shots in the game, and after leading the team in shots and sharing the team lead in goals last season, she’ll be looked to as a strong goal scorer for the team.

Schwartz will need help up top to create goals for the Gophers and Denney Wright decided this season to have three forwards up front instead of just the two they had last season. The change gives the team a more attack-orientated approach, which Denney Wright hopes will translate into more goals this season.

“It’s tremendously helpful having an additional forward because we can create more shots on goal,” Schwartz said.

Despite the two losses over the weekend, Denney Wright said she participated in the tournament to prepare the team for the rigor of competing in the Big Ten conference by facing nationally ranked opponents.

“We put our kids in the fire so they could grow and learn,” she said.

Preseason polls picked Minnesota to finish 10th in the conference. The Big Ten schedule will be no easy task, with No. 7 Penn State, No. 15 Purdue and No. 20 Illinois all waiting for the Gophers.

But Denney Wright thinks her team might have the right mix of players to have a successful season.

“We have a lot of versatile kids who can play all over the field,” Denney Wright said. “I think this team has something special.”