Gophers men’s tennis team to play Purdue in NCAA first round

by Aaron Kirscht

After the Gophers men’s tennis team suffered through a season that coach David Geatz described with variations on the theme of “horrible,” the odds of getting the opportunity to defend its regional championship next weekend seemed slim.
But a last-ditch push at season’s end, which resulted in a third-place finish in the Big Ten tournament, revived the Gophers’ hopes. On Tuesday, the words they were waiting for arrived: Minnesota was granted a No. 5 seed in the Region IV tournament, which will be held May 9-11 in Champaign, Ill.
“I have a friend on the committee, and I called him the day before the announcements were supposed to go out,” Geatz said. “He’s probably not supposed to say anything, but he’s an old Minnesota Gopher guy. You know how that goes. So I called him up and said, ‘C’mon, what’s the deal? Are we going to make it into this thing or not?’
“He said we were the No. 5 team that they recommended (to the NCAA). There’s another conference call that happens after that that he’s not involved in, but I knew that the committee thought we were the fifth team going in.
“It’s not that I was relieved, I just thought, ‘We’re in.'”
And the Gophers’ draw looks favorable to boot. They’ll play fourth-seeded Purdue, a team they beat 4-2 in the quarterfinals of last weekend’s Big Ten tournament.
Heading into that match, Geatz all but guaranteed the upset (the Gophers were the first No. 7 seed to beat a No. 2). His team delivered, but ran into the brick wall known as Illinois — the eventual champion — in the second round. Now, the Gophers will have to deliver again.
“They’ll be tougher this time around,” Geatz said. “There’s no doubt about that. We will not sneak up on them again. But I think that if we play well — not great, just well — we’ll beat Purdue.
“I’m sure Purdue thinks they’re going to beat us, but I think they’ll be mistaken.”
Should the Gophers’ renewed confidence carry them to a another win over Purdue, they’ll face Notre Dame in the semifinals. The Irish are the top seed in the region, but fell 4-3 to Minnesota in the first round of last year’s tournament.
The Gophers are the only team in the tournament with a losing record in a field that also includes Northwestern, Indiana and Illinois.
“There were a lot of times during the year when it looked like we didn’t even have a chance to get in,” Geatz said. “We’re just happy to be there. Who cares about the draw?”