Up-and-down season continues for soccer team

Mark Heller

They’ve been on the seesaw all season: up, down, up, down.
And they’re getting sick of it.
In 1999 the Minnesota soccer team has not won three games in a row. The Gophers lost consecutive games at Iowa State and at home to Southern Methodist, and they’ve scored 21 goals in 14 games.
The pattern continues. Minnesota dropped a game to 14th-ranked Michigan on Friday, then beat Illinois State 3-0 on Sunday.
No one needs to tell the players and coaches about their roller-coaster season, they’re living it.
And they don’t like it.
“We played our last 45 minutes against Michigan so well. It was tough not to put a complete game together against them even though we should have,” Gophers coach Sue Montagne said. “We needed to win and beat Illinois State. It would have been great to beat Michigan but we have to move on. The game’s over with.”
Montagne said she has extremely high expectations by nature, but she did concede that this team is not where she hoped it would be with one conference game left (at home against Wisconsin on Friday).
It’s the “moving on” part that has many of the players baffled. The six losses are not what Montagne or her players envisioned heading into this season, and they’re there for several reasons.
“We’ve been really inconsistent, just up and down,” senior forward Amy Koehler said. “We find (momentum), then we keep it and then we lose it. Then we have to find something else.”
When asked what parts of games have glaringly gone against the grain, Jaime O’Gara, Megan Johnson and Koehler all answered, “offense.”
“I thought everybody would score goals and we haven’t,” Johnson said. “We’ve hit more crossbars and had more over the net and been more unlucky than any other year, but I think it’s all going to flood out.”
To Minnesota’s defense, they have been on the losing end of the bad breaks. Laurie Seidl’s header against Michigan in the second half hit the crossbar. Seidl alone has hit posts and crossbars at least a half-dozen times this season.
Johnson is also trying to put a positive spin on a tumultuous season. For Johnson, it’s how the team ends its season that counts.
“I think we’re just starting to pull together now, and I think it’s better we got all this bad playing out in the beginning,” she said. “We won’t win the Big Ten but we can still win the tournament and go on in NCAAs, so the end of the season is a lot more important than the beginning.”
The problem for Minnesota is that they have one conference game left to try and cement themselves a good slot in the Big Ten tournament, and games against Evansville and Kentucky to find their groove. The Gophers don’t appear to have found their zone after the loss to Michigan.
The team’s roller-coaster season keeps rolling, but they hope to be exiting the ride.
“We’ve made all kinds of changes: strategy, players, everything,” O’Gara said. “We’re trying to find what’s going to get us going.”

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