It’s that time again: Gophers prep for border battle

Austin Cumblad

Psychologists have argued in recent years that proximity breeds friendship, perhaps much more than we realize or would like to admit. Odds are that a neighbor will become a close acquaintance before someone that lives across town. But in the sports world, proximity fosters an entirely different form of closeness âÄî fierce rivalries. The spoils may not be Paul BunyanâÄôs Axe, but itâÄôs a border battle nonetheless. Carrying identical Big Ten records, the 15th-ranked Minnesota womenâÄôs soccer team and Wisconsin meet tonight at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. âÄúWe love the border battles,âÄù redshirt freshman forward Steph Brandt said. âÄúItâÄôs always a little sweeter when you can beat your neighbor to the east.âÄù The Gophers (9-1-2 overall, 1-0-1 Big Ten) and Badgers (4-3-3, 1-0-1) each started their Big Ten campaigns last weekend with a tie and a win. Wisconsin spent both games in Indiana, drawing Purdue 0-0 on Sept. 24 then beating Indiana in overtime Sunday, 1-0. Minnesota, meanwhile, tied Iowa 1-1 on the road and won at home, 1-0 over No. 20 Illinois. The Badgers had a historic 2009. Their run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament was their best in more than 15 years, and they finished inside the top three in the Big Ten for the first time since 2000. What that narrative leaves out, however, is the fact that the Gophers were responsible for WisconsinâÄôs only home loss last season. No doubt the Badgers would like to return the favor in Minneapolis. Wisconsin has gradually improved since its current seniors arrived on the team, from 6-10-1 in 2007 to 10-6-6 a year ago. âÄú[The Badgers have] developed a lot over the last few years, so weâÄôre going to have to bring our very best to compete with them,âÄù Minnesota head coach Mikki Denney Wright said. Of course, the Gophers bring plenty to the game, among other things an 11-game unbeaten streak (longest since 1997) and conference co-leaders in points (senior midfielder Katie Bethke) and goals (junior midfielder Shari Eckstrom.) MinnesotaâÄôs offensive prowess is no secret, but perhaps overshadowed by its Big Ten-best 25 goals is the half goal per game the Gophers are allowing, second in the conference behind Illinois. Wisconsin is likewise averaging 0.5 goals against this season, and that stinginess has largely kept its record afloat. The Badgers have scored just six goals in 10 games, half of them off the foot of junior striker Laurie Nosbusch. But thanks to as many consecutive shutouts, Wisconsin has won four of its last six games. And lest we forget, this is a border battle. The Gophers must expect that the Badgers are as likely now as ever to wake from their offensive slumber.