Texas Two Steppin’ in the Twin Cities

Eight Big Ten teams are vying for a bid to the NCAA tournament in College Station, Texas this weekend in St. Paul.

The Big Ten soccer tournament begins Thursday at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium where the top eight conference teams will take to the pitch to determine who will receive an automatic berth to the NCAA championship tournament.

Penn State, Purdue and Illinois remain on the short list of potential conference champions, but in the Big Ten nothing is for sure, especially when an NCAA bid is up for grabs.

While the perennial contenders jump out as the early favorites for the Big Ten crown, several teams lie on the bubble of an at-large NCAA bid and look hungry to make a deep run this weekend.


1. PENN STATE

(15-3-1 overall, 9-1-0 Big Ten)

It seems like every year the Nittany Lions appear as the tournament favorite, and this year proves no different as Penn State has bulldozed their way through most of their competition in the Big Ten.

They have 10 straight season titles and enter the tournament as the defending champion poised to make a 13th consecutive NCAA appearance.

Their only loss came on the road against Minnesota in a double overtime game.

The Nittany Lions bring a dangerous attack to the Twin Cities with sophomore forward Katie Schoepfer and fellow forward senior Aubrey Aden-Buie, who have combined for 21-of-33 of Penn State’s goals.

The Nittany Lions and their chances of repeating live and die with the play of their forwards. If they are on top of their game and finishing their opportunities, watch out.

But if opponents can limit their chances, like the Gophers did, they have a chance of an upset.


2. PURDUE

(16-2-2 overall, 8-1-1 Big Ten)

A strong veteran presence will guide this team, hell-bent on winning the tournament after running to their best season in the school’s history.

It’s been four years in the making for this team of 12 seniors, eight of whom start on the field.

Senior forward Parrissa Eyorokon leads the team in scoring with 12 goals and six assists.

The Boilermakers lost senior forward Jill Sarbaugh for the season three weeks ago due to injury and they will miss her ability to create plays and opportunities for teammates. Her leadership and playmaking ability will also be missed but they have plenty of others to step up on this deep squad.

Purdue likes to play possession in the midfield and switches fields very well in that area, which makes them very tough to defend.


3. ILLINOIS

(11-5-1 overall, 6-3-1 Big Ten)

Their record might not reveal the whole story of this team as four of their five losses have come against top 25 teams.

Senior Ella Masar is one of the most complete players in the conference and opponents have had trouble containing her as she has scored 11 goals on the season.

The Illini have a strong defense that has allowed only six goals in conference play. They are led by junior Emily Zurrer and make it very difficult for opponents to find open shots.

In the midfield, Illinois makes possession difficult as they will collapse in the middle for tackles and expand wide to begin an attack.

If Masar and the defense play well this team could find itself in the championship match for the second straight year.


4. INDIANA

(12-5-2 overall, 5-4-1 Big Ten)

After starting the season strong with a 13 game unbeaten streak the Hoosiers have cooled off considerably, losing their last four of five matches.

Things turned especially ugly in their last game where Purdue demolished the Hoosiers 7-0 at home.

Indiana relies on the strength of their attacking players and will send the ball to them as often as possible. After clearing a ball from the defending third the Hoosiers look to press immediately and find their forwards.

Sophomore forward Kristin Arnold leads the team with nine goals. Arnold has a rocket shot and will fire at will from any distance.

The Hoosiers will need Arnold on top of her game if they hope to move on in the tournament, but their matchup with Ohio State should prove a game of two stars between Arnold and Lara Dickenmann.


5. ohio state

(11-8-0 overall, 5-5-0 Big Ten)

Everything for the Buckeyes begins and ends with senior midfielder Lara Dickenmann, a Swiss national team member who does it all for Ohio State. The Buckeyes are 18-3 over the last two years when Dickenmann tallies a point.

She has the ability to fire shots from anywhere in the attacking third and can possess the ball well enough to dribble past multiple defenders to set up teammates for easy goals or score herself. She has four goals and five assists for the year.

Junior midfielder Lisa Collison has received her fair share of quality opportunities from Dickenmann as she has scored four goals on the season.

Ohio State needs a deep tournament run to secure a NCAA berth and if Dickenmann is allowed to operate in space this team stands a good chance of shaking things up.


6. MINNESOTA

(9-8-1 overall, 5-5-0 Big Ten)

The youth of the Gophers has been their strength and weakness this season.

Minnesota starts five freshmen, three of whom patrol the backline.

The Gophers’ defense has shown flashes of brilliance, highlighted in their upset win over Penn State, as they shut down Aubrey Aden-Buie and Katie Schoepfer. But the defense has been plagued by lapses in other games.

The offense has exploded onto the scene this season as Minnesota has scored 29 goals, the most since 1999.

The defense has grown throughout the season and has looked strong lately. If they avoid mistakes and the offense finishes scoring chances this team has a possibility of making a run in the tournament. They will need to in order to land an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.


7. NORTHWESTERN

(9-6-4 overall, 4-4-2 Big Ten)

The Wildcats have relied on defense and strong goalkeeping all season, as evidenced by their four ties.

Senior keeper Lauren Johnston has posted four shutouts and Northwestern has nine as a team for the year.

The Wildcats need great goalkeeping from Johnston to keep the game close.

If they can do that, then the offensive talents of senior forward Kelsey Hans and freshman midfielder Alison Schneeman can take over and put goals on the board. The duo combined for 18 goals and six assists on the season. Northwestern has outscored their opponents 10-1 in its last four games and hopes to build upon that success in the tournament.

Facing Purdue in the opening round doesn’t help their chances in advancing but defense might keep them in the game.


8. IOWA

(8-7-4 overall, 4-6-0 Big Ten)

The Hawkeyes are a tricky opponent. The longer Iowa hangs around in a match the more dangerous they become as they do not allow many scoring chances.

The Hawkeyes base their entire offense on the counterattack and opponent mistakes.

Their limited offense has forced them to play strong defense, keeping most of their team behind the ball.

Four seniors hold the backline of the defense that doesn’t allow many good scoring chances with most of their team back on defense.

Most adversaries know the challenges with Iowa, so scoring first proves the first order of business against the Hawkeyes. Opponents must score early against Iowa and Penn State has the offensive firepower to make it a quick appearance for the Hawkeyes.