The No. 25 Minnesota Golden Gopher Soccer team (18-2-0, 8-2-0) completed a historic regular season on Friday night in Iowa City by defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes (9-10-1, 3-6-1) 1-0 to claim a share of the Big Ten regular season championship. Penn State went down to Ohio State earlier in the day to open the door for the Gophers to raise the trophy. The improbable loss by Penn State in State College, Pa. coupled with the Minnesota victory allowed both the Nittany Lions and the Gophers to finish with identical conference leading 8-2 records and 24 points.
“This was another solid, gritty performance by our team. I’m so proud of this group of seniors,” Minnesota head coach Mikki Denney Wright said. “Winning a championship was a goal these players set for themselves at the beginning of the season, and it’s great to see them reach it.”
Freshman Tam Strahota scored the only goal of the match early in the second half. Each of Strahota’s five goals this season has been of the game-winning variety.
Strahota found herself with the ball at her feet deep in Hawkeye territory in front of their back line of defenders. The Burnsville, Minn. native drove the ball on the dribble to the end line on the left side and served the ball back to a streaking Kaitlin Wagner in front of the goal. Wagner battled with a Hawkeye defender and was able to knock the ball back in the direction of Strahota, who calmly found the side netting for what would stand up as the game-winner. The assist was Wagner’s fifth of the season, and gives the captain out of Plymouth, Minn. 15 points this season.
“I just drove the endline and slotted it back like Coach Mikki tells us to,” said Strahota. “I saw [Wagner], and she dug it out and was able to win that battle in front of the goal. It was a great feeling to put one in after we had a lot of good chances in the first half. I love these seniors, and I'm most happy for them.”
The first half belonged to the Gophers with totals of 11 shots and 6 corner kicks to Iowa’s 4 shots and zero corner kicks. A clear chance presented itself in the 17th minute of play when sophomore Molly Rouse collected a pass at the top of the box on the left side and touched it inside. The midfielder out of Cambridge, Minn. ripped a shot to the far post. However, Emily Moran, the freshman goalkeeper for the Hawkeyes, was able to lay out to make the save and keep the match scoreless.
Iowa’s most significant surges came in the 2nd half of play. Each team was able to control play at different points throughout the half. Minnesota outshot Iowa in the second half by a margin of 7-5, but the Hawkeyes totaled five corner kicks to Minnesota’s one and also had several dangerous deep long throw-ins that created opportunities for a potential equalizer. Senior goalkeeper Lindsey Dare and the Gopher defensive unit of Kelsey Hood, Jennie Clark, Krystle Kallman, and Kylie Kallman collected their program-record 15th shutout of the season by making four saves on the night none bigger than Kylie Kallman’s in the 89th minute.
Iowa was able to break the Gophers’ pressure in the final four minutes and apply pressure on Minnesota by earning a series of corner kicks and long throw-ins deep in Minnesota territory. With just under two minutes to play, a ball that was partially cleared from an Iowa free kick was served back in to the Gopher penalty area. Dare charged off her line to collect the cross, but was only able to redirect the ball down at the top of the box. A Hawkeye midfielder cracked a shot on goal which was headed clear by Kylie Kallman, preserving the program’s first conference championship since 1997.
“That is what I have been taught to do when my goalkeeper comes for a ball like that,” said Kylie Kallman of her game-saving play. “Coach Kate [Cortis] has drilled that into us. I was just doing my job.”
This year’s title is Minnesota’s third Big Ten regular season championship. The Gophers also claimed the crown in 1995 and 1997. Only three schools have ever earned a Big 10 regular season soccer championship. Penn State leads the way with eleven titles. Minnesota now has three, while border rival Wisconsin has claimed two.
The Gophers return to Iowa City next weekend for the Big Ten Tournament. No. 25 Minnesota plays a quarterfinal game against Northwestern at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 6. No. 21 Penn State claims the top seed by virtue of the Nittany Lions’ 2-0 victory over Minnesota on Oct. 17.
The winner of the Minnesota-Northwestern match will meet in the semifinal round at 1:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon. Both semifinal matches on Friday afternoon as well as the championship match on Sunday afternoon will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network.