Northwestern a hefty task if Gophers earn pass into Big Ten second round

Minnesota will first have to get by Purdue before getting a shot at the Wildcats.

If the glass slipper fits, this weekend, the Minnesota women’s tennis team will likely be dancing its way into the NCAA tournament.

If not, the Gophers will be calling it a season.

As the eighth-seeded Gophers begin the Big Ten tournament at 9 a.m. today in West Lafayette with a first round matchup with a familiar foe ninth-seed Purdue, coach Tyler Thomson’s squad fully understands that after a subpar conference regular season, it needs to put together a Cinderella tournament run to qualify for May’s NCAA tournament.

Fortunately, the Gophers may get a chance at their one, shining moment.

If Minnesota can survive the Boilermakers, who they beat 4-3 on the same courts last Sunday, they will get a crack at top-ranked Northwestern – fresh off its fourth consecutive 10-0 conference regular season – on Friday.

Thomson was hoping, at first, that his team would find a way out of the eighth seed and a potential second round date with the Wildcats, but now that the brackets are set, he and his team are embracing the matchup.

After a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Illinois last Saturday locked the Gophers into a potential second round matchup with Northwestern, winners of eight of the last 10 Big Ten tournaments, the Gophers (14-10, 3-7) have been taking an optimistic approach about the possible challenge that awaits them.

“The good thing about (the seeding) is it’s not the ideal draw, but if we are able to find a win to beat (Northwestern), we’ll probably get our way into the tournament. It’s kind of a one-hit-wonder type of match,” Thomson said. “They are an extremely deep team and extremely good team, but I don’t count our team out from anything. We are capable of anything and I’m really hoping we’ll get that opportunity.”

Of course, getting to Friday will be another challenge for the Gophers. Minnesota beat the Boilermakers by one point on Sunday in West Lafayette, and knows that Purdue will have revenge on its mind as it opens the conference tournament on its home court.

“For starters, we definitely have our work cut out for us in getting past Purdue. Our first match with them could have went either way,” said Thomson.

Senior Danielle Mousseau, whose 7-5 win against the Boilermakers at No. 5 singles helped propel Minnesota to victory last weekend, said she hopes she, and the team, can rekindle that magic this week, but knows Purdue will be ready to go.

“I was actually thinking I should move to West Lafayette and find a job there because I’ve had so much success there the past week Ö just kidding, though. They are an extremely tough team. It will be just as tough or tougher next time around. We know we have to be prepared,” Mousseau said.

With “gimme” matches few and far between in the deep, ultracompetitive Big Ten this season, Thomson expects every match to be tough, but still hopes his team has magic in its back pocket.

“Everybody has motivation for every match,” Thomson said. “We’ll have a big cherry on top of the sundae if we can (get a win against Northwestern).”

Men tournament-ready

The Minnesota men’s tennis team enters the Big Ten tournament in Iowa City on a roll.

The seventh-seeded Gophers (6-16, 4-6), who play 10th-seeded Michigan State today in the first round of the Big Ten tournament at 3 p.m. have won four of their last six conference matches after starting the Big Ten slate 0-4.

Coach Geoff Young said he has been pleased with the way his young team has continued to improve and to compete after losing nine of its first 10 matches to start the season – but he did say the team failed in its goal to beat one of the top five teams in the conference.

However, The Gophers might have one more crack at attaining that goal this weekend.

Were Minnesota to beat the Spartans, which it beat 6-1 during the regular season, the Gophers would get a crack at upsetting No. 2 seeded Wisconsin on Friday.

“It will take everyone being tough and we’re all going to have to play well, but if we all play our best and are strong mentally we (have a chance),” Young said.