Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
Gophers coach Stefanie Golan started her four seniors on Senior Night at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium in St. Paul.
Those four are Katie Thyken, Olivia Schultz, Taylor Wodnick and Becca Roberts.
But the visitors, Iowa, spoiled the festivities.
The Hawkeyes won 1-0, getting a goal from an unusual source, or head, to be more specific.
Sophomore Amanda Lulek, all 5-7 of her, scored on a header in the 33rd minute following a corner kick. It was her first goal of the season, no wait, it was her first goal of her college career. And it came on her only shot of the game, and first of the year in three matches.
Want more hard-to-believe stuff. Lulek scored under a minute after she went into the game. She entered at 31:38 and scored at 32:31.
"Heartbreaking loss as we played great," Golan tweeted. "1st time we've been shut out all year but the soccer looked great."
The Gophers had a 22-9 advantage in shots and a 5-1 edge in shots on goal.
Trouble was, they went up against a hot, hot goalie. Junior Hannah Clark of Iowa came into the game with three consecutive shutouts. Now it's four in a row. She had not allowed a goal in 363 minutes and 13 seconds.
Her play has helped Iowa start 8-1 overall, 3-0 in the Big Ten. That's the best conference start for Iowa ever.
This was only the fourth win for Iowa over the Gophers and their first in the Land of 10,000 Lakes since 2007.
Clark made five saves. Rachel McCloskey had the Gophers last shot, at 89:31, but it went wide.
Gophers goalie Tarah Hobbs, the returning Big Ten goalkeeper of the year, made only one save, in the 88th minute.
The loss drops the Gophers to 4-5 overall, 1-2 in the Big Ten. After scoring 10 goals against Stetson in their season opener, Minnesota only has nine goals in the last eight games.
Thyken led the Gophers in shots against Iowa with six, Haley Helverson led in shots on goal with two. And the Gophers had an 8-1 edge in corner kicks, but Iowa scored on the only one the Hawkeyes had.
Iowa also had one of the best scoring chances in the game very early, At 8:52, Cloe Lacasse hit a post.
Coach Hugh McCutcheon had to be pleased Friday with his team's second match.
The Gophers dispatched Toledo 25-13, 25-18, 25-18. And four players had 10 or more kills: Sarah Wilhite had 14, Daly Santana 12, and Hannah Tapp and Adrianna Nora 10 apiece.
Expecting the biggest crowd of the day, no doubt, for the late match in the Rocket Invite, the Rockets unveiled last season’s 2013 Mid-American Conference championship banner before play began.
It didn't help.
The Gophers hit .402 -- remember .300 is good in volleyball as it is in baseball -- for an attack percentage, and held Toledo to .168.
“Minnesota is a great team,” Rockets coach Greg Smith said. “They stay really consistent and force you into doing things you’re not used to doing.
"We hung with them and had some good runs, but they’re such a good team that it puts a lot of pressure on us.”
And four Gophers were pounding away for big points. ... Paige Tapp and Nora blocked a spike for set point in Game 1. Paige Tapp's kill ended Game 2 and Laura Calvori's ace ended the match.
Minnesota, now 9-1, beat Duquesne earlier, 25-17, 25-17, 25-19.
Wilhite had 26 kills in the two matches and hit .355. Santana had 19 kills total.
Next up is IPFW, short for Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne. The Mastodons beat Duquesne on Friday night to end a six-match winning streak.
The Gophers should beat 'em to win the tournament.
Wanna watch some high level tennis? Indoors or outdoors?
The place to go is the U's main campus. The Gophers, under third-year coach Chuck Merzbacher, will host a 13-team tournament.
Meaning all the available courts inside and outside will be used at times for matches.
Who's there? Five Iowa schools: Drake, Iowa, Iowa St., and Northern Iowa. Two from Wisconsin, the Badgers and UW-Milwaukee. Three from the Dakotas: North Dakota, South Dakota and South Dakota St.
And a couple out of the region: Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois and Kentucky.
Doubles matches will be played first each day, starting at 9 a.m.
Friday there will be five eight-team doubles draws and each will play down to a winning team. Saturday and Sunday new doubles draws will do the same thing.
In singles, there will be five 16-player draws and one eight-player draw. One round of singles will be played Friday, two Saturday and one Sunday.
OK, it's kinda complex. But I'm sure there will be draws posted somewhere so fans who stop by can figure out who is playing whom, when and where.
Merzbacher seems to have the Gophers going in the right direction in terms of becoming a winner. His first team was 10-5 overall, 3-8 in the Big Ten. Last year the Gophers improved to 17-9 and 6-5. That's the most overall wins and Big Ten wins since 2003.
The Gophers return seven players, including four who had over 20 wins. They are:
* Julia Courter, 25-16 in singles, 24-10 in doubles ... She was on a doubles team that took third in the top flight of this tournament a year ago. ... Junior from Lawrenceville, Ga.
* Aria Lambert, 24-14 in singles ... Senior from Deephaven. ... Only Minnesotan on Gophers roster.
* Jessika Mozia ... 23-17 in singles ... She won her flight in this tournament a year ago. ... Junior from Littleton, Colo.
* Tereza Brichacova ... 20-16 in singles, 16-18 in doubles ... She played No. 1 singles in 22 spring matches. ... She won her flight in this tournament a year ago. ... Senior from Prague, Czech Republic.
Newcomers are two freshmen, Caroline Ryba from Glenville, Ill., and Mehvish Safdar from Mason, Ohio, and junior Alexandra Bergman, a transfer from UConn.
On the other 12 teams, there are seven Minnesotans returning home. Here is the short list:
Drake: Summer Brills, North Oaks
Iowa State: Natalie Phippen, Lakeland
North Dakota: Aliza Deming, Afton; Lexi Larson, Long Prairie; Faith Lee, Andover, Lacey Sprinkel, Minneapolis
South Dakota St.: Tacy Haws-Lay, Minneapolis
What's eye-opening is the number of international players in college tennis. There are 51 in this tournament, from 24 different countries.
Countries with more than one player in the Minnesota Invitational:
England 6; Spain 5; Canada 4 (all from Ontario); Brazil, Columbia, Czech Republic, Germany 3.
Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Indonesia, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine 2.
Countries with one:
Croatia, El Salvador, France, India, Isreal, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Venezuela, Zimbabwe.
Kentucky is probably the team to watch in this tournament. The Wildcats made the NCAA tournament last spring for the first time since 2009 and reached the Round of 16 before falling 4-1 to Virginia.
They are led by jr. Nadia Ravita, of Jakarta, Indonesia. She lost in the first round of the singles draw in the NCAA tournament. This fall she is ranked No. 41 in singles in the ITA preseason rankings and No. 12 in doubles with partner Aldila Sutjiadi, also from Jakarta.
The Wildcats finished 17-12 overall and 6-9 in the SEC last season.
Not sure what Jessica Allister's contract situation is, but Norwood Teague is lucky to have her.
The softball program looks like it is in good hands.
In Allister's fourth season, the team reached its first super regional, won the Big Ten tournament, and went 44-12.
And, there's this, going into the seventh inning on Sunday, the Gophers were within a run, 3-2, of the favorite to win the NCAA tournament. Oregon wound up sweeping the U 10-2 (not a good game for the Gophers) and 6-2.
But Minnesota has the core of its team returning. Pitcher Sara Moulton will graduate and she owns most of the program's career records. So, too, will center fielder Bree Blanchette. She hit only .204 but had 24 RBI, tied for fifth on the team. Good defensively, too.
The only other senior is Kelsey Klucas, who was used only as a pinch runner. ... The seniors won 142 games in their four seasons, reaching 30-plus every season.
But Sara Groenewegen and Nikki Anderson should be able to eat up most of Moulton's innings.
Groenewegen was the Big Ten pitcher of the year and freshman of the year. She's a good arm to build a staff around. She threw a no-hitter and also 6.1 no-hit innings in one relief outing in the regional at Minneapolis.
She can strike batter out, 11.6 per seven innings -- best rate in country. Oh, and she can hit, too. Batted .299 with 11 homers. She plays first went not in the circle.
Anderson, a sophomore, actually had the best ERA on the team, 1.60. She also trhrows hard and had 51 strikeouts in 42 innings. Made 20 relief appearances. Closed the door on Auburn in the championship game of the regional in one of them.
Gophers also signed righthander Kylie Stober of Lakeville South.
So the Gophers should be more than OK in pitching.
Hitting? The Gophers will return two of the best in the Big Ten, first team all-conference picks Kaitlyn Richardson and Tyler Walker, who play third and short. Richardson hit .418 with 21 double, 10 homers and 51 RBI.
Walker hit two homers against Oregon. She also has pop, especially for a leadff hitter with a .382 average. She had 13 doubles, eight triples and 12 homers and 50 RBI. Also got hit 12 times by pitches. So she got on base a lot.
The Gophers return their top four players in RBI and Erica Meyer, who tied for fifth with 24.
Besied Stober, the Gophers also signed five other players, two from Minnesota, one from Michigan, one from Iowa and one from Arizona.
After the second loss to Oregon ended the Gophers' season, Richardson said, "You have to give us credit, we've done a lot this year."
Allister expects her team to come back hungry, wanting to do even more next season.
"The more you get a taste of thing, the more you want it. ... [Getting to Super Regionals for the first time] is a huge step for our program."
And on Sunday, when the Gophers needed to win twice, the day began with bad news.
Groenewegen, who was scheduled to start the first game that day was unavailable. She was ruled out because of injury.
The Gophers didn't say what was wrong with her, but Oregon coach Mike White didn't hesitate. He said Groenewegen had a concussion.
Would have been interesting to see Groenewegen, a strikeout pitcher, against the aggressive Ducks.
Maybe next season.
What a pitching performance that was.
Sara Groenewegen usually starts for the Gophers. But on Saturday, they needed her to come into a 1-1 game in relief.
And did she ever provide relief. The freshmen from White Rock, British Columbia, pitched 6-1/3 inning and didn't give up a hit against North Dakota State in the winners' bracket final of the Minneapolis regional at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.
The Gophers finally pushed across three runs in the top of the 10th inning to take a 4-1 lead and Groenewegen moved down the Bison 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning, striking out the first two batters.
That brought her game total to 13 strikeouts, a season high, including eight in a row to start her outing. She faced 20 batters; only one got on base via a walk.
Groenewegen got the win to improve her record to 14-2. She has a 2.12 ERA and has struck out 185 in 112 innings.
Next up for the Gophers, at 1:30 p.m. Sunday is Auburn in the championship game. The Tigers are coming out of the losers' bracket and have to beat Minnesota twice to advance to the super regionals.
Auburn is 41-18-1 after beating Wisconsin-Green Bay 9-1 in five innings and North Dakota 1-0 in elimination games on Saturday.
Sophomore Lexi Davis has started all three games for Auburn in the regional. She's Auburn's ace and got a little bit of a break when the Tigers jumped out to a big lead over Green Bay. She pitched only two innings in that game.
Davis is a 6-2 righthander who is 20-11 with a 2.74 ERA. She beat NDSU on a four-hitter.
The Tigers' second pitcher is sophomore Marcy Harper, 17-5, 3.74 ERA and much smaller. She's a 5-6 righthander.
Expecting Davis to start against the Gophers in Game 1. If there is a Game 2, then who knows?
Auburn also has two big sticks. Freshman Kasey Cooper had 18 homers and 77 RBI. And she's hitting .421. Junior Branndi Melero has 15 homers and 77 RBI, too. She is hitting .400.
"I thought Lexi pitched extremely well," Auburn coach Clint Myers said. "She made the pitches when she had to. She was tough all night long."
"I tried to think about it, pressure is created, it doesn't really exist," Davis said. "I just went out there, with the possibility of it being seniors last games, I wanted to do it for my team.
"Nobody wants to go home," Davis said. "That mind-set, and playing with our hearts, brought us closer. We're playing for each other."
FOUR BIG TEN TEAMS ALIVE
Washington beat Northwestern 9-0 on Saturday in five innings to end the Wildcats' season.
But the other four Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament are still playing.
The Gophers, however, are the only unbeaten team in their regional.
Co-champions Michigan and Nebraska, and Wisconin all have to beat a seeded team twice on Sunday to advance to the super regionals.
Michigan plays Arizona State at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. The Wolverines lost to ASU 4-1 and beat San Diego State 9-1.
Nebraska plays Missouri, the No. 15 seed out of 16, at noon. The Cornhuskers won twice Saturday, beating Bradley 9-0 and Kansas 2-1.
Wisconsin plays Oregon, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, at 1 p.m. The Badgers lost to Oregon 6-1 but beat Albany 8-1.
After Sunday's game, only 16 teams will still be left in the NCAA field.
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