Conference Watch: Big Ten women's race gets tighter

Penn State has won or shared 16 of the last 17 Big Ten regular-season women's titles, but the Nittany Lions find themselves in the thick of a tight race this fall. Penn State, first in this week's NCAA RPI rankings, was one of four teams that trailed Minnesota by two points after five games. The race got tighter when the Golden Gophers lost for the first time in five games, falling to Wisconsin, 1-0.

Big Ten Conference Standings:
PTS (RPI) TEAM W-L-T
12 (#12) Minnesota 4-1-0
10 (#24) Northwestern 3-1-1
10 (#64) Michigan 3-1-1
10 (#1) Penn State 3-1-1
10 (#52) Wisconsin 3-1-1
8 (#30) Illinois 2-1-2
7 (#6) Rutgers 2-2-1
7 (#36) Michigan State 2-1-1
6 (#63) Purdue 2-3-0
5 (#37) Ohio State 1-2-2
5 (#22) Nebraska 1-2-2
3 (#55) Indiana 0-2-3
1 (#147) Iowa 0-4-1
0 (#73) Maryland 0-4-0
RPI=Ranking in this week's NCAA RPI.

The win was third in a row for the Badgers and kept them in the Big Ten race after a slow start of the season that saw them lose at UCLA, Pepperdine during a brutal non-conference schedule and at Penn State. Kinley McNicoll scored the game's lone goal on a penalty kick, and Wisconsin limited Minnesota, which came into the game having scored 25 goals on the year, to just four shots.

"Credit Wisconsin who played extremely hard and as well as I've seen them play this year," said Minnesota coach Stefanie Golan. "They were ready for us and we never found our rhythm and struggled to get dangerous today. We are disappointed in the result, especially to lose on a penalty kick, but it is only our second loss on the year and first blip in the Big Ten.

At No. 12, Minnesota was one of four Big Ten teams ranked in last week's Soccer America Top 25 rankings. No. 13 Penn State handed No. 22 Northwestern its first loss in the conference play with an impressive 3-0 win over the Nittany Lions on goals by seniors Mallory Weber and Raquel Rodriguez and freshman Alina Ortega-Jurado, who has played for Germany's U-19 national team.

Rutgers rebounded from losses to Illinois and Northwestern after opening with eight straight wins. The Scarlet Knights beat Michigan State, 1-0, and tied Michigan, 1-1.

“I’m happy with the weekend,” said Rutgers coach Mike O’Neill after the tie with Michigan, which is tied with Penn State, Northwestern and Wisconsin for second place. “What I mean by that is we had two tough opponents and didn’t have a lot of rest. The team we played today had an extra day’s rest and I think the effort that the kids gave for both games was inspiring."

Just three Big Ten teams -- tournament champion Wisconsin, regular-season champion Penn State and Rutgers -- made the 2014 NCAA Tournament, but many more could get postseason bids this season. Twelve Big 12 teams are ranked this week among the top 64 teams in this week's RPI Index.
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