Minnesota’s toughest conference weekend starts today

After a relatively light weekend of play last week, the Gophers enter Big Ten play again in what may be their biggest test of the season. The Gophers will take on Purdue at 7 p.m., Friday before facing Illinois at 1 p.m. on Sunday . Both matches will provide intense competition for the Gophers. Purdue (9-3-2, 3-0-1 Big Ten) , is on top of the Big Ten and undefeated in conference play. Illinois (9-4-0, 3-1-0) is also just ahead of the Gophers in the conference standings. âÄúItâÄôs going to be pretty tough competition, but I think that weâÄôre very able to compete with them,âÄù sophomore attacker Molly Rouse said. Several members of the team said one of the biggest obstacles this weekend will be adapting to a different style of play. Both Purdue and Illinois play with more attackers, which contrasts to MinnesotaâÄôs more defensive-minded style of playing. Gophers head coach Mikki Denney Wright felt the change wouldnâÄôt affect her playersâÄô ability to win. âÄúNo one plays exactly like you do,âÄù she said. âÄúWe look at it as a great opportunity to play two very good teams.âÄù Two players to watch Friday from Purdue will be forwards Loredana Riverso and Felicia Schroeder . Riverso and Schroeder lead the team in goals scored at six apiece . âÄúPurdue weâÄôve struggled with in the past so I think weâÄôd really like to beat them,âÄù Gophers forward Sara Clancy said. âÄúUltimately it comes down to forwards scoring goals.âÄù The biggest stumbling block to SundayâÄôs game may be leftover from the 2007-08 season. The Illini defeated the Gophers at home in the quarterfinals of last seasonâÄôs NCAA tournament. The game, which ended in a 4-3 loss after six rounds of penalty-kick shootouts, ended the Gophers run for a national title. âÄúTheyâÄôve both had strong competition coming into it, and I think theyâÄôre pretty confident with how theyâÄôve been playing,âÄù Rouse said. She said Purdue and Illinois will be the two most successful teams the Gophers have faced this season, and both will present strong challenges. Emily Zurrer of Illinois was also named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week this week. The Illini will play Iowa State in Iowa on Friday before heading to Minnesota on Sunday. This weekend marks the final two games of the Gophers longest home-game stretch of the season. After this weekend, the Gophers will only have five more opportunities to prove themselves before the Big Ten tournament. Their schedule includes top Big Ten opponents Ohio State and Penn State. Denney Wright said the teamâÄôs six seniors have made a huge impact on the Gophers play up to this point, and she looks to them to help Minnesota finish the season strong. âÄúThey have a sense of urgency about every game,âÄù she said. âÄúThey want it, theyâÄôre committed to it.âÄù She said the senior class looks at these next few games as the culmination of their careers, and they are throwing their hearts into it. Their hard work is inspiring their fellow teammates, Denney Wright said, and Gophers coaching staff hopes to help them âÄúgo out in style.âÄù âÄúIâÄôm really confident that they can carry us through to a great season,âÄù she said.