The nationally ranked University of Minnesota Women’s soccer team had a second half epiphany this afternoon at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium in St. Paul. Their sudden revelation was a good chewing out by head coach Mikki Denney Wright at half time. In a game that was televised nationally on the Big Ten Network, the Gophers defeated the Purdue Boilermakers with 4 goals in the second half of play. Purdue was able to thwart Minnesota’s attempt at a shutout by scoring in the dying moments of the game. The 4-1 win puts Minnesota at 2-1-1 in the Big Ten and 10-2-2 overall. Purdue is now 2-3-1 and 6-8-2 overall.
The women Gophers started slowly in the first half and their play was reminiscent of their sluggishness against the Wisconsin Badgers 10 days prior. With the long break between games, coach Mikki Denney Wright was hoping her players would come out of the gate with a bang. Instead, her team was tentative and didn’t attack in the fashion that has become synonymous with U of M women’s soccer. Cat Parkhill was called upon to make 4 saves, three of them being crucial stops. Purdue had the better half, outshooting Minnesota 6-5 and had a leg up on the Gophers with five corners to Minnesota’s one.
Minnesota’s first half performance left coach Wright speechless after the game. “For us not to possess was … I don’t know what they… I really have no idea what we were doing,” said Wright wagging her head. “Certainly in the first half we were not good. We’re better than that and that’s what I told them. In the second half they showed that. Sometimes you just have to lay into them and that’s exactly what I did. Every team goes through a point in the season where they need their butt kicked a little. This might have been our moment. Thank goodness Cat (Parkhill) kept us in the first half. We can play soccer like we did in the second half and we certainly have throughout the year. We’ve just had a little lull. I’m really proud of how they responded to that in the second half.”
Play better they did. The Gophers had evened the corner kicks within 10 minutes of the second half kick off and Minnesota attacked freely, going at players one-on-one and putting together nice combination plays to penetrate the Boilermaker defense. Finally, in the 62nd minute, the Gophers’ newly-inspired passion to play paid off with a goal by Angie Olson. Shari Eckstrom took one of Minnesota’s 8 corner kicks in the second half. The ball found its way to the foot of Eckstrom, who was waiting at the far post. The initial shot didn’t go in and after a scramble in front of the net she poked it into the right side of goal putting the Gophers up 1-0.
Angie Olson with a chance but was thwarted on the play.
Minnesota didn’t have to wait long. While the announcer was still crediting the goal, the Gophers struck again, this time from Shari Eckstrom, also in the 62nd minute. After the Purdue kickoff, the Gophers quickly won the ball and after a few touches the ball was pushed wide to Julie Rezac. She collected the ball on the left, took a few touches down the flank and put a driven cross into the box. Eckstrom made a bolting run though the defense and reached the ball just in time to tip it into goal with her toe as she stretched to meet the ball. Both the cross and the finish were exceptional by the Gophers.
Minnesota didn’t let up and in the 84th minute Katie Bethke got into the scoring action. She collected the ball in the center of the field, 21 yards out from goal. With a good look, the senior midfielder took a crack at goal and blasted a shot between two defenders and over Boilermakers keeper Clara Kridler, who had come into replace Carianne Betts at the 67th minute. The ball dropped just under the crossbar, giving Minnesota a 3-0 lead.
Finally, at the 85th minute mark Molly Rouse closed out the scoring for the Gophers when Kylie Kallman flicked a perfectly weighted ball over the top of the Boilermaker defense with her head and right to the onrushing Rouse. She took two clean touches, setting herself up to follow the ball to her right and across the box. She then pivoted and shot low-left, beating Kridler for the final Gopher goal.
Just a minute later the Gophers’ marking got a bit lax and allowed Katie Leinert to get on the end of a Liz Secue cross. The Purdue forward made no mistakes by blasting the ball into the left side of the goal from 8 yards out.
Gophers fans were surprised to see Jennie Clark starting the game at center back allowing Tamara Strahota to move back up top. Clark, who was on the Hermann Trophy watch list at the beginning of the season, broke her collar bone in two spots in a preseason friendly against Belmont in Nashville, Tenn. on August 31st. She was originally thought to be out the entire season but she continued to push her rehab and returned to action today, going the full 90 minutes.
“It’s so good to be back,” said a smiling Clark. “It’s been a rough couple of weeks for me coming back into the team and training. But I felt confident this afternoon and we were going to see how long I could go. I made it all the way through the 90. Of course I trained all preseason with my teammates so when I trained this week it all snapped right back for all of us. It just felt really good.”
“Having Jennie (Clark) back helps us in many ways,” said Wright. “It allowed us to put Tam (Strahota) up top which is her natural spot and she’s so dangerous for us. We were really excited to have her back and to play 90 (minutes) is huge.”
The final stats showed Minnesota out shooting the Boilermakers 15-11 and held a 9-6 advantage on corners.
The Gophers return to action next weekend with a Big Ten road trip to Penn State on Friday, October 15 and Ohio State on Sunday the 17th.