Gophers ready to host NCAA opening rounds this weekend

As the opening rounds of the NCAA womenâÄôs soccer tournament get underway this weekend teams will be travelling into the Twin Cities to take on the Gophers, who are appearing in the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade. No. 24 Minnesota will host Marquette at 6 p.m. Friday, following FridayâÄôs 3 p.m. matchup between No. 13 Colorado and South Dakota State. The winning teams will advance to the second round of the tournament and will play at 1 p.m. on Sunday. After winning the Summit League tournament championship, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits should be looking to improve upon a 2-0 postseason record. Colorado has had a strong season in a competitive conference, with victories over Nebraska, Kansas and No. 25 Texas helping the team to a 13-3-3 regular-season record. The Big 12 will be a well-represented conference in the NCAA tournament this year. The Buffaloes, the top seed in MinnesotaâÄôs preliminary-round bracket, are one of six Big 12 teams to make a showing. On the other hand, this is the first NCAA tournament appearance for Minnesota since 1999 , and the first of head coach Mikki Denney WrightâÄôs coaching career with the Gophers. Denney Wright said though the team has come a long way this year, she doesnâÄôt believe the rush of being successful will trip the team up. âÄúWeâÄôre just trying to go out and play good soccer and enjoy the process,âÄù she said. âÄúIf you look back I suppose you could feel pressure, but I do believe these players have already accomplished so much.âÄù The teamâÄôs game Friday against the Golden Eagles is all the team is focused on, she said. Marquette finished the regular season second in the American division of the Big East conference. The team lost to Notre Dame âÄî the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament âÄî in the title match of the postseason tournament. However, it has proven itself as a solid team, taking big wins from a competitive slate of opponents all season long. Big Ten has strong NCAA showing Minnesota is one of four Big Ten schools set to compete in the tournament. Michigan State, Illinois and conference champion Penn State will also compete in the first round. The Penn State Nittany Lions will head to New Jersey to take on Rutgers at 6:30 p.m. Friday in a preliminary-round tournament field that includes No. 7 Oklahoma State. An automatic bid, No. 21 Penn State is coming off a strong weekend showing at the Big Ten tournament in Iowa City, Iowa, where strong offensive performances from Danielle Toney and Emma Thomson coupled with solid goaltending led to a 2-1 win over Minnesota. The Spartans will play No. 17 Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the first round at Notre Dame. MilwaukeeâÄôs Sara Hagen will help provide a formidable offensive opponent. Hagen is one of the top national goal-scorers and contributed a hat trick in last weekendâÄôs 6-2 win against Loyola. Milwaukee enters the tournament as the Horizon League champion. Laura Heyboer will be a player to watch for Michigan State this weekend. She garnered two Big Ten Player of the Year awards this season. She is seventh in the nation in goals per game. Illinois will travel to Columbia, Mo., to battle No. 29 Memphis this weekend. The Fighting Illini were 0.500 in Big Ten play this season, but strong performances from both Emily Zurrer and Chichi Nweke helped the team to decisive victories against Purdue and Michigan State during the regular season.