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Gophers Lift Big Ten Tournament Trophy After Defeating Rutgers 2-1

by on 7 November 2016

Minnesota nabbed their second Big Ten trophy of the year with a win over Rutgers in the Big Ten Women’s Soccer Tournament final. This is the second time in program history the Gophers have won the tournament and the first time they were both the season and the tournament champions.

Last year the Gophers were knocked out in the first round of the Big Ten tournament by Rutgers. This year, they faced off again, but this time it was the final. The Gophers were looking for their first Big Ten tournament win since 1995. Rutgers, who joined the conference in 2014, were hoping for their first.

The Gophers hosted the tournament weekend by being the highest seed remaining after the quarterfinals. While they shared the Big Ten season championship with Penn State and Northwestern, Minnesota received the No. 1 seed based on the three teams’ records against each other. Despite being seeded seventh for this tournament, the Scarlet Knights arrived at the final by taking out the other two season co-champions. They bested No. 2 seed Penn State in the quarterfinal and defeated No. 3 seed Northwestern in the semifinal on Friday.

First half

The teams took to the pitch at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on an unusually warm and clear November afternoon. Despite getting the first shot in the game less than three minutes in, the Gophers started the first half playing more tentatively than fans have been used to seeing this year. They looked to be holding back and not putting players into attacking position.

Something clicked around 23 minutes in when the Gophers seemed to find their focus and their feet as the gameplay was more in the Rutgers end of the pitch. Emily Heslin explains, “the beginning was just a little bit of jitters; we couldn’t quite get the ball on the ground. Then we settled in and started passing around them and realized that was how we were going to beat them.”

In the 27th minute, freshman Nikki Albrecht floated a ball from the left side and Sydney Squires provided the needed touch to put it past keeper Alana Jimenez.

The goal rattled the Scarlet Knights and gave a burst of energy to the Gophers, who were able to maintain the attack by playing a high pressure defense and forcing turnovers. The turn of the tide frustrated the women in black. Tempers flared in the 37th minute when Rutgers’ Madison Tiernan pushed Albrecht to the ground on the sideline after the stop of play and drew a yellow card.

The half ended 1-0 Gophers.

Second half

The Scarlet Knights emerged from the locker room with more energy for the second half and the Gophers now needed to both attack and defend looking into a low autumn sun. Minnesota held off Rutgers, but without the same organized attack that closed the first half.

After a two-day turnaround from Friday’s semifinal games, both teams showed physical and mental fatigue as the game became stretched. That created opportunities at both ends, with Rutgers making better chances for themselves. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before the Scarlet Knights would break through the Gophers defense. They did in the 84th minute. Taylor Aylmer found Chantelle Swaby who scored the equalizer for Rutgers.

If there was anything to motivate the fatigued Gophers squad, it was the threat of overtime. Within a minute of the Rutgers goal, Minnesota’s Emily Heslin scored a dramatic tournament-winning goal. An errant clearance came right to Heslin who was lurking just outside the goal box. She side footed a rocket into the upper right side of the net, freezing the Scarlet Knights’ Jimenez in her tracks. It was Heslin’s first goal of the season.

“I’ve been wanting a goal at the top of the box all last year, all this year and it just finally was served on a platter for me and I finished it…I saw the opportunity one time and hit it right past the goalkeeper,” said Heslin.

In addition to the team trophy, Heslin, Squires, and Tori Burnett were named to the All-Tournament Team. Squires and Burnett received additional individual honors as the Most Outstanding Offensive Player and  Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the tournament.

Head coach Stefanie Golan was understandably proud of her team. “We’re super excited about the drive, the heart, everything this team has given all year to result in the regular season championship and then the tournament championship.”

This is the first time Minnesota has taken both titles, but those wins were just two of three ambitious goals (the third is going deep into the NCAA tournament) the women set for themselves months ago.

“Before we started the season, we talked about dreaming big. If your dreams aren’t so big they scare you, they’re not big enough. For these guys to be willing to set their sights as high as they have and to accomplish the first two goals has been huge,” said Golan.

The tournament win comes with an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. The Gophers have high hopes at favorable seeding and playing host more than once. Selections for the tournament will be announced Monday, November 7 at 3:30 p.m. CST.

Photo by Jeremy Olson – www.digitalgopher.com

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  • David Lipset

    Nice article; my question is this, having attended the game. What was wrong with #2 Kolander? She had five shots or so. But seemed too unwilling to pass the ball on several occasions and then her final effort was silly. Exhausted? Frustrated? Underfed?

    • Kate Sophia

      There wasn’t a particular mention of Kolander, but coach Golan acknowledged that the team is generally quite tired after finishing the regular season and launching right into the tournament. She’s looking for them to get rest and nutrition in the next few days to be ready for the first round of NCAA.

      Another factor for Kolander in particular is that she is getting more minutes in these tournament games. The NCAA substitute and re-entry rules allow for more rest during the game. I was surprised that she wasn’t substituted off earlier in the first half (as I’m used to seeing). In some of her stronger matches, she put in closer to 60 minutes and in the tournament it was more like 75-80. I think the accumulation of that was part of her fatigue.

      • David Lipset

        She came off in the first half and didn’t start the second half. I don’t buy the accumulated fatigue argument. She hasn’t played very well for a month.

  • Alex Schieferdecker

    Cold blooded killers. Hope this team can go far in the NCAA tournament!