On Saturday the Wisconsin's women’s soccer team will close their regular season with a visit to St. Paul against the Minnesota Gophers. The stakes are simple — win and hold on to the fourth place spot on the conference standings, which should all but ensure a trip to North Carolina for the NCAA tournament after Big Ten postseason play. With a draw or loss, however, the Badgers risk letting one of the four teams within three points of them to jump into the fourth slot.
One of those teams, conveniently enough, is Minnesota. The Gophers have put together a solid spring campaign in spite of pandemic circumstances, improving on a 2019 season in which they finished 3-12-4. They won’t be an easy out for a Wisconsin team looking to extend a two game winning streak- though recent history favors the Badgers — who’ve come out on top in every Border War since 2013 — Minnesota is yet to lose a game at home this year.
The Gophers are anchored by an experienced backline — senior Athena Kuehn leads the unit and hasn’t left the field this year. Junior Katie Koker took home Big Ten defender of the week honors earlier this year and has been a staple, appearing in all 10 games and starting in 8. Two more juniors help anchor the Big Ten’s third best defense — only seven goals conceded in 2021 — with Delaney Skekr and Alana Dressely each being reliable selections for head coach Stefanie Golan. Behind the Gopher defense is one of the conference’s best goalkeepers, Megan Plaschko. The sophomore from Eagan, Min. has the best goals against average in the conference, as well as the second most shutouts.
Minnesota has one of the smallest named midfield corps in the Big Ten, with only four players exclusively listed as playing the position on the roster. This doesn’t mean the Gophers are at any loss for quality in the center of the park, however. Sophia Boman is a freshman who’s enjoyed a stellar rookie season — leading the team in points and tying for the team lead in minutes. Katie Duong is another underclassman who’s had a major role, with the sophomore USWNT U-20 alumnus leading the team in assists with three — nobody else on the roster has more than one. Two more names to keep an eye on are Megan Gray and Celina Nummerdor — both players are versatile enough to play in either the attack or midfield and have seen significant minutes this season.
While so much of the point production has come from the midfield for the Gophers this season, the forward line has been mostly rotational throughout the year, with coach Golan swapping and subbing players to fit the flow of each individual game. Some names to watch out for are Makenzie Langdok and Patricia Ward, who have both appeared in every game and have started most. McKenna Buisman has been Minnesota’s most productive attacker this season, with both a goal and assist to her name through ten games.
Off The Bench:
Sadie Harper has been one of the most effective substitute spark plugs in the Big Ten this year, notching a pair of goals — tied for most on the team — in just 494 minutes. She only has a pair of starts on the season, but if she’s on the bench again against the Badgers keep an eye out for her to make an impact once called upon.
Wisconsin will take on Minnesota on the road tomorrow at 1 p.m. CT, with the game broadcasted on Big Ten Plus.
Special thanks to Anna Landis (@juliannalandis) from The Minnesota Daily for helping out with this preview