The Golden Gopher soccer team completed their first Big Ten sweep in nearly two years by defeating the Michigan State Spartans 2-0 Sunday afternoon at a rainy Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium. Kelly Wepking and Clare Grimwood each scored goals as the Gophers improved their conference record to 2-0 (6-3-1 overall).
Much of Sunday’s match was played through steady rainfall, which intensified to a torrential downpour at times. The inclement weather limited the match’s attendance to 489, but Minnesota still drew over 2,000 spectators in their conference-opening weekend (1,516 saw the Gophers beat Michigan 2-1 on Friday).
“I feels great,” said senior midfielder Hailey McCarthy about the Gophers’ Big Ten-opening sweep. “It’s so crucial to play well right away... If you get down right away, everything snowballs. When you win, everything just seems so much easier.”
Wepking put the Golden Gophers on the scoreboard early, as she launched a shot past MSU’s Nicole Galas from nearly 20 yards out just 4:48 into the match. It was the second goal of Wepking’s career and on the weekend both of them of the game-winning variety. Lindsey Schwartz and Katie Bethke collected assists on the play.
Keeping the Gophers’ early momentum going, Grimwood essentially put the match out of reach for the Spartans when she notched her third goal of 2007 in the 33rd minute. Molly Rouse, starting in place of the injured Kaitlin Wagner (severe ankle sprain), found Grimwood with a short pass in front of the MSU net which the junior midfielder quickly deposited in goal. It was the second assist of the weekend and season for the freshman Rouse.
Just like Friday night’s hard-fought 2-1 win over the Wolverines, Sunday’s rain-soaked match was an intensely physical battle. The two teams combined for 28 fouls (14 apiece) and three yellow cards. All three cards came within a 16-second span at the end of the first half. Minnesota also held the Spartans without a shot on goal during the first period, totaling an 8-3 advantage in that category for the game.
“I thought that we attacked and defended really hard as a group,” said head coach Mikki Denney Wright. “I thought we made all the right adjustments that we talked about, and still created a lot of opportunities. Michigan State came out hard in the second half and we absorbed a lot of their pressure really well, so it was great to get the shutout.”
Sunday’s match marked Denney Wright’s first victory over the Spartans as the Gophers’ head coach and the program’s first since 1999. Minnesota begins the season 2-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1997, the last time the Gophers won the conference. The last time Minnesota defeated both Michigan and Michigan State in the same season was 1998.
The Gophers also continued their season-long trend of Sunday dominance against the Spartans. Minnesota is now 4-1-1 during the second games of weekend series this season, outscoring their opponents a whopping 13-2.
“This is a good Sunday team,” Denney Wright said. “That’s because of our depth and how much time and effort we put into our training. This group’s goal and mission is to turn this into one of the top teams in the Big Ten.”
After doubling their Big Ten win total from a year ago, the Gopher women now enter the most grueling stretch of their schedule. Minnesota’s next three matches will come on the road against 2006 NCAA Tournament participants Illinois (Oct. 5), Indiana (Oct. 12) and Purdue (Oct. 14). The Boilermakers currently lead the Big Ten with a 10-1-1 record and are ranked 11th nationally.