Gopher heading to Iowa City for Big Ten tournament

It has been a long season for the Gophers, filled with consistent play and a couple upsets, but as the team enters the postseason, it will leave that past behind. The second-seeded Gophers will begin their shot at a postseason Big Ten title against Northwestern at 10 a.m., Thursday in Iowa City, Iowa. Amanda Hoffman, Jenny Dunn and Sam Greene are at the top of the WildcatsâÄô attack. Hoffman has a team-leading six goals this season and Greene and Dunn are ranked sixth and tenth in the Big Ten, respectively, in total assists this season. Gophers head coach Mikki Denney Wright said Minnesota is entering the tournament this weekend with a postseason mindset. âÄúYou just have to come into every game ready to play,âÄù she said. Though one might think that entering a tournament, not knowing who you could be playing tomorrow, would present a challenge for a team, but Denney Wright said thatâÄôs not the case for the Gophers. âÄúYouâÄôre not really dealing with an unknown,âÄù she said, adding that because the Gophers have played all their Big Ten opponents, they have a good idea of what they will be up against. âÄúYou know each other really well, almost too well,âÄù she said. Ultimately it comes down to having an all-around solid team. âÄúWhen you play three games in four days you have to have a lot of kids step up,âÄù Denney Wright said. âÄúA few hotshot players canâÄôt carry a team through a long tournament run.âÄù Gophers earn yearly accolades Senior midfielder Kelsey Hood was named the Big TenâÄôs Defensive Player of the Year this week. She was also named as a first-team All-Big Ten player for the first time in her career. Hood has been named to other All-Big Ten teams four times in her college career. Minnesota defender Jennie Clark was also named first-team All-Big Ten, and two other players, including senior goalkeeper Lindsey Dare, were named second-team All-Big Ten. Freshman forward Tamara Strahota was named to the All-Freshman squad. Strahota has tallied five goals for the Gophers this season. âÄúAccolades are nice, but our kids, they play for a different reason,âÄù Denney Wright said, though she added that it was âÄúoutstandingâÄù to have her players recognized. Denney Wright also took home Big Ten honors. The fifth-year Gophers head coach was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year. It is the first time Minnesota has taken home the award since 1997. Purdue v. Ohio State Purdue is set to take on Ohio State at 1 p.m. Thursday. Loredana Riverso, Felicia Schroeder and Jenny Bradfisch, whose 0.84 goals against average ranks in the top half of the Big Ten, should present the Buckeyes with a solid battle. The last time the teams faced off, the game ended in a lopsided, 3-0 Boilermakers victory. However, as usual, anything can happen in the postseason. Ohio State is coming off a huge 1-0 win against Penn State last weekend, and the win could give the team some extra momentum. Statistically the Buckeyes are in the middle of the pack in every category except total number of offsides committed this season. The Buckeyes have been called offside 42 times this season, second among all teams in the Big Ten. ItâÄôs a habit they will have to rein in order to stay powerful Thursday. Penn State v. Iowa A riveting Penn State-Iowa matchup will not take place until 4 p.m. on Thursday to allow the local favorite Hawkeyes to play during prime time. Having won their only matchup with the Gophers this season, the Nittany Lions enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed. Penn State suffered a hefty upset last weekend to Ohio State, but its record as a team that can play solid soccer week after week should give the Nittany Lions a boost toward a victory. Penn State has a strong attack, led by forwards Katie Scheopfer, Danielle Toney and Nikki Watts . Schoepfer, along with teammates Zoe Bouchelle, Jessie Davis and Alyssa Naeher recently garnered first-team All-Big Ten honors. Michigan State v. Illinois A 7 p.m. matchup between Illinois and Michigan State may prove to be the most intense and exciting of ThursdayâÄôs games. Illinois was one of only four teams to defeat the Spartans this season. The Illini attack is led by junior forward Chichi Nweke and defender Emily Zurrer. The two lead the team in goals scored this season. Junior Alexandra Kapicka holds up the net for Illinois. Her 0.79 GAA is third in the Big Ten. Not to be outdone, Michigan State has proven that it is a team packed with talented players. Freshman forward Laura Heyboer ranks seventh among Division I players in points per game and eighth in goals per game. Teammate Lauren Hill is also ranked. Her 1.74 points per game is 24th in the nation. In addition to being named as a first-team All-Big Ten player, Heyboer was named Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Yea r. All-in-all, ThursdayâÄôs combination of steady play and hotshot talent should prove to create a fiery matchup.