With the final games of conference play closing in, the Gophers had one big goal in mind at practice last week: They wanted to get their legs back.
After the first 11 games of the season, eight of which were on the road, head coach Stefanie Golan shortened practice for the Gophers last week in an attempt to help the team recover its stamina.
That extra rest could prove pivotal this week during the Gophers’ matchup with Nebraska on Thursday. It’s their only scheduled Thursday game of the season, which means the team has one fewer day than usual to recuperate from its latest two weekend matches, one of which went into double overtime.
“We’re at the time of the year where kids start getting tired,” Golan said at practice last week. “[We’re] finishing a little earlier, so that we’re shorter and sharper and [we can] maybe get our legs back a little bit.”
Not only do the Gophers play on a shortened amount of rest this week, after their match against Nebraska, they travel to Illinois to take on a team that has had plenty of down time recently. When the two teams meet up Sunday, it will be Minnesota’s fourth match in the last two weeks, and just the Illini’s second.
”They’re going to be fresh,” Golan said, “so it’s important that we manage our players well.”
The shortened practice strategy seemed to be successful in last weekend’s first match against Penn State, as the Gophers did not let the highest scoring offense in the Big Ten score a goal. An own goal was the only difference between the two teams in a 1-0 loss.
After the game, even though the team was disappointed, junior defender Haley Helverson said she thought the shorter practices gave the team an energy boost.
“I think it was really helpful in getting our legs back, and I think it showed today,” Helverson said. “We’ve been going really hard up to this point just to get ready for teams like [Penn State.]”
The Gophers needed all the legs they could get again on Sunday, as they saw an early lead disappear near end of the first half, ultimately playing two overtime periods.
Even though Ohio State was able to create plenty of pressure in the first overtime period, the Gophers found a way to create chances even in the final minutes. In the second overtime, the Gophers had three shots to Ohio State’s one.
Sophomore goalkeeper Tarah Hobbs said Friday’s close match with Penn State took some energy away from the team, but the Gophers still felt good going into Sunday. Players sometimes consider Sunday games challenging because of the short turnaround they require from playing on a Friday.
“Penn State we kind of exerted a lot,” Hobbs said. “We were still a little tired but we had more energy for a Sunday game.”
The Gophers now have to hope that they’ll have a little more energy for their Thursday game. With the team still fighting to get into position to make the NCAA tournament, every game counts.
“I definitely think it’s been helping,” senior forward Olivia Schultz said. “There’s a point where our bodies just can’t go anymore, and I think the coaches are doing a really good job of … giving us time off so we can recover and be ready for the big games.”