The Minnesota Golden Gopher soccer team lost a dramatic battle with Illinois University Thursday night in the first round of the 2007 Big Ten Tournament, losing an overtime shootout 4-3 after playing 110 minutes of regulation soccer to a 2-2 draw. Illinois’ Kara Gostisha beat Gopher keeper Lindsey Dare on the sixth penalty kick to knock Minnesota out of the conference tournament. The tie decision will likely end the 2007 season for the Gophers (9-8-2 overall), as they are unlikely to gain an at-large NCAA Tournament berth when the field is announced Monday night.
After falling behind 1-0 partway through the first half, the sixth-seeded Gophers surprised a talented Illinois team by storming back and grabbing a 2-1 lead just after the half. Minnesota’s defense nearly preserved that advantage through the remainder of regulation, but surrendered a goal with just over three minutes remaining in the second half, before being eliminated in the shootout.
“I thought we played really well against a great attacking team,” said head coach Mikki Denney Wright. “At the end of regulation, they were just throwing so many numbers and they got a corner and they scored on it. They don’t give up; a team like Illinois doesn’t give up.”
After the Gophers fell behind in the 34th minute of the first half, Clare Grimwood tied the game at one apiece when All-Big Ten Freshman Katie Bethke found her just outside the six-yard box for a goal at the 58:30 mark. It was Bethke’s Big Ten-leading 10th assist of the season, the second-highest assist total ever by a Gopher freshman. Grimwood’s line drive shot to the right corner gave her five goals on the season, more than doubling her previous career high.
Schwartz’s go-ahead goal came less than four minutes later, with Grimwood earning the assist on a play that was similar to the Gophers’ previous goal. Grimwood’s pass from the bottom right corner found Schwartz in the middle of the field, and she beat Illinois’ Lindsey Carstens to give Minnesota their first lead of the night. It was Schwartz’s team-leading ninth goal of the season, the most by any Gopher since 2002 and the program’s second-best individual effort since 1999.
“Everything was on the line tonight,” said Schwartz after the game. “We just wanted to win... Coming out of the half, we knew that we needed to score and we were able to finish on a couple of opportunities.”
Thanks to the outstanding play of Minnesota’s back defensive line (consisting of freshmen Kylie Kallman, Jennie Clark and Rezac) and goalkeeper Dare, the Gophers held off the aggressive Illini attack during the next 26 minutes of play. Illinois had 10 shots during the second half, including six on goal, and it was a scrum in the front of the net that allowed Illinois’ Emily Zurrer to sneak the equalizer past a diving Dare at the 86:53 mark, sending the match into overtime.
Through the first five shooters of overtime, Minnesota and Illinois each made three penalty kicks, sending the contest to a sudden victory stage. After Bethke, Elena Fruci and Sara Clancy made three of Minnesota’s first five chances, Rezac was unable to convert the team’s sixth penalty kick, allowing Gostisha to notch the game-winner and propel Illinois into the tournament’s semifinal round.
“It is heartbreaking,” said Schwartz. “But when the game goes to penalty kicks, it means it was a pretty even match. You know that it definitely wasn’t a cheap goal.”
The shootout was just the third in Minnesota soccer history, with the last instance coming in the 1999 Big Ten Tournament against Indiana. Minnesota is now 0-3 all-time in overtime shootouts.
Those in attendance Thursday night at a chilly Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium witnessed one of the most dramatic back-and-forth contests in program history. Illinois outshot the Gophers 22-12 during the match (including 11-6 on goal), but the junior Dare turned in a masterful performance in her sixth start of the season. Dare hauled in nine saves and made several acrobatic grabs, with many coming during the waning minutes of regulation and two overtime periods. A diving play on a Cory Steigerwald shot in the 75th minute preserved the Gophers’ narrow lead at the time, and Dare’s perfectly-timed leap with 6:15 to go in the first overtime stopped what appeared to be the surefire game-winning goal for Illinois.
The match’s momentum appeared to shift in the last minutes of the first half, as Minnesota’s Kaitlin Wagner hit the crossbar as the buzzer sounded to end the period. Wagner was one of eight different Gophers to launch a shot in the match, and Schwartz led team with four on the night (three on goal).
“I thought they kind of came at us in the second half, even though we came out and scored two (goals),” said Denney Wright. “I was just so proud of us finishing. I just can’t say enough about this group. For that many young players to come out and perform like that was just tremendous. I couldn’t ask any more.”
Ten underclassmen saw significant playing time in the Gophers’ first postseason outing since 2005, including eight freshmen. Minnesota is now 7-5-3 all-time in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Illini were without 2006 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Ella Masar for much of the contest, as she was forced to leave the game in the first half with a leg injury. Illinois also played two goalkeepers Thursday night, with sophomore Alexandria Kapicka relieving Carstens on two separate occasions.
The 2007 Big Ten Tournament will continue Friday night at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium, with Penn State and Ohio State squaring off in the early semifinal (5:00 p.m.) and Purdue and Illinois at 8:00 p.m. The tournament championship match will take place at 1:00 p.m. Sunday and can be seen live on the Big Ten Network.