“Belief, heart, fight, resilience.” Those were all words that Gopher head coach Stefanie Golan used to describe her team’s second half, 3-goal comeback, to defeat their rival Wisconsin 3-2 in the game billed as the “Border Battle.”
“This is always the biggest rivalry of the year,” said Taylor Wodnick, who scored the game-winning goal with just 2 minutes left on the clock. “We knew they were going to be aggressive and we had to match their intensity. I don’t think we did in the first half, but in the second half we definitely stepped it up.”
The Gophers definitely did step it up, scoring 3 unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes of the match for the victory.
Minnesota had made a habit of scoring goals early on their opponents this year so Badgers head coach Paula Wilkins said before the match that their game plan was to possess the ball as much as possible to keep Minnesota off the scoreboard. The tactic seemed to work and it was Wisconsin who scored the first goal in this match.
After pressure in the Gophers box, the Badgers’ Paige Adams played the ball out to the right side of the box where she found Cara Walls unmarked. The sophomore forward shot low and slotted it past Gophers goalkeeper Cat Parkhill, putting Wisconsin up 1-0 over Minnesota.
Just 3 minutes later Wall broke through the Minnesota defense and hit a hard shot that took a great reaction save from Parkhill to knock the ball just wide of goal.
The Gophers’ best chance of the first half came just 3 minutes from the break. Taylor Uhl laid a touch pass down for Brianne Price who may have had her best game as a Gopher this season. She touched the ball forward with a defender on her shoulder then poked the ball with her lead foot which surprised Badger goalkeeper Lauren Gunderson. But the redshirted senior keeper was able to tip the ball over the bar and save the equalizer before half.
The pace of the match seemed to pick up in the second half but it was the Badgers who scored again in the 57th minute when Monica Lam-Feist scored after a Wisconsin corner kick. The initial ball was cleared weakly by the Gophers and the rebound found its way to Lam-Feist. Like Wisconsin’s first goal, the senior midfielder found herself unmarked just 3 yards out from the penalty box. She unleashed a shot that found its way through the Minnesota defense and past Parkhill to put the Badgers up 2-0.
The Gophers continued to press despite Wisconsin’s second goal and in the 69th minute Katie Thyken took a throw-in from the left side of the field where she found Uhl who had just been reinserted into the lineup after an extended sit on the bench. Uhl laid the ball off to Allie Phillips who shot across the face of the goal, hitting the inside of the far post and caroming into the net to get the Gophers back into the match.
The Gophers continued the pressure with several more chances on goal. Then 5 minutes after Thyken’s goal she became provider with a perfect long ball over the top of the Badger defense. Uhl read the pass well, beating the offside trap and then taking the ball off her chest and laying it down to her feet. Her touch was near perfect and the sophomore forward set herself up for a great one-on-one chance against Gunderson which she finished nicely tying the game at 2 apiece.
It was almost Uhl with the game winner in the 83rd when a cross came into the box that she redirected with her head just inches wide of the left goalpost.
But Wisconsin wasn’t finished and in the 86th minute Walls got a shot off at Parkhill who got just enough on the ball to slow it down. As the ball trickled towards the goal line, team captain and redshirted central defender Tam Strahota cleared the ball as it was rolling over the goal line.
While the near miss might have scared the Gophers it didn’t deter them as they headed right back down the field in what ended up being a wide open game in the final 5 minutes of play. It was Taylor Wodnick with the heroics in the 88th minute. Marissa Price sent a ball into the box. Both Gunderson and Wodnick went up for the ball but it was the sophomore midfielder who got to it first and tipped it up and over the Badger keeper. The ball bounced into the goal and gave the Gophers a big win against their border rivals.
“Marissa had a beautiful cross and I didn’t even get my head on it, I got my back on it,” said Wodnick. “But as long as you go up and get something on it…”
Wodnick said she was entirely focused on the ball and knew her teammates were there if she didn’t get to it. “I didn’t even see the keeper,” laughed Wodnick.
With the win the Gophers improved their Big Ten record to 2-2-0 with their overall record going to 7-5-0. Wisconsin drops to 1-3-0 and 7-4-0 overall.
Gophers head coach Stefanie Golan said after the match that they knew going in that this was a critical match for her Gophers or it would be tough going the rest of the season.
“We had the toughest part of the Big Ten schedule right on the front end and we knew it was going to be a battle in all these early games,” said Golan. “It was definitely a priority to win this game, not only because of the rivalry but because of the record moving forward from here.”
Taylor Uhl, who ended the match with a goal and an assist, was substituted shortly into the second half. While it’s not unusual for the Gophers’ number one goal scorer to be given a break each half, it was a bit earlier than Coach Golan usually pulls her and she spent more time on the bench then she probably has all season. When she did finally enter back into the match it was Uhl who provided Phillips with the ball that got the Gophers on the scoreboard and she scored the game-tying goal as well. The Gophers coach stated after the contest that the move to sit Uhl was tactical.
“It was also about letting Taylor know that she had to step up,” said Golan. “She wasn’t really holding the ball well for us and she wasn’t as dangerous as she needed to be. We wanted her to go back in with some fresh legs and she definitely made an impact.”