The most successful season in the history of the Minnesota soccer program came to an end Friday night, but not before the Gophers gave the nation’s top-ranked team their biggest scare of the season.
A penalty kick goal by Notre Dame’s Kerri Hanks with three minutes remaining in the first overtime period gave the No. 1 Fighting Irish (24-0-0) a 1-0 victory over No. 22 Minnesota (22-4-0) in third round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night in South Bend, Ind.
The Gophers held the nation’s top team scoreless for nearly 97 minutes, but could not manage a goal as they saw their 2008 season come to a close.
“I don’t think we could have given any more,” said Minnesota head coach Mikki Denney Wright after the match. “I think [our team] just poured their hearts out. I’m so proud of this group, and the only sad thing is that the season had to come to an end.”
The penalty kick-inducing foul came from Gopher defender Krystle Kallman, who grabbed Notre Dame’s Hanks with her left hand as she streaked towards the goal with 3:06 showing on the clock in overtime. Minnesota keeper Lindsey Dare guessed Hanks would go left with her shot, but the midfielder instead found the bottom right half of the net to send the undefeated Irish on to the round of eight.
Over a foot of snow needed to be plowed off Alumni Field in South Bend, Ind. before Friday night’s contest could even begin, and the conditions on the field played a large role in the outcome of the match. The frozen pitch played fast and footing was an issue for both sides as match time temperatures hovered in the teens.
Both teams came out with all cylinders firing in the early going. The Fighting Irish and Golden Gophers entered the contest averaging 23.1 and 18.8 shots per game, respectively, and set an aggressive tone from the opening whistle.
Notre Dame’s Melissa Henderson had two tremendous opportunities in the first 18 minutes of play, seeing a one-on-one chance in the 16th minute go wide left and being thwarted on another opportunity by a great save from Minnesota goalie Lindsey Dare.
Minnesota’s defense, led by Dare in goal, Kylie and Krystle Kallman, Jennie Clark and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Kelsey Hood, was truly the story of the game, stifling one of the nation’s most potent offensive teams on a chilly night in Indiana.
“Notre Dame is absolutely one of the best offensive teams in the country, and it took a [penalty kick] to score on us,” said Dare, a senior playing in her final collegiate contest. “I think that says a lot about our defenders.”
Although the Irish only outshot the Gophers 9-8 in the first half, Minnesota entered the locker room at the midway point feeling fortunate to have held the nation’s top team scoreless through 45 minutes the team had just one shot on goal in the first half.
In the second half, the Irish came out with all cylinders firing. Dare made three saves in the first five minutes of play, including a spectacular dive on a six-yard shot from Notre Dame’s Rose Augustin. The Apple Valley, Minn. native had nine saves in the contest (seven in the second half and overtime period) and thwarted the high-flying Notre Dame offense at every turn.
Although Notre Dame had a number of excellent scoring opportunities in the final 45 minutes, they could not convert, sending the match to overtime.
While Minnesota’s played near flawless defense, they mustered little offensively. The Gophers managed just two shots on goal the entire match and only three total shots in the second half (11 for the duration of the match). Meanwhile, the Irish piled up 26 shots, 11 of them on goal, and won the corner kick battle 9-1.
“Our mentality was that we were coming to play,” said Denney Wright. “We never sat back, we played our game the whole way we played to win to from moment one. It’s unfortunate how it ended up, but I can’t say enough about how this group played.”
Friday’s gut-wrenching loss capped what was a magical season for Denney Wright and the Gophers. Minnesota won the most games in program history (22), gained a share of the Big Ten regular season championship and to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.
“We had em,” said Dare. “Notre Dame’s a good team and I give them credit, but we fought like we’ve never fought before. I love my teammates and they played great tonight.
“It’s been a helluva ride.”