Gophers hope near-miss can spur them at Big Tens

Gophers hope near-miss can spur them at Big Tens

Bob Wothe

Minnesota’s men’s tennis team had a chance to make everyone forget about its trying season Saturday.

The Gophers led 3-2 against No. 4 Illinois, a team that was undefeated in the Big Ten and 18-3 overall, and No. 1 singles player Avery Ticer cruised through his first set, winning 6-3.

But it all fell apart as the team lost its last two matches, including Ticer’s heartbreaking three-setter that gave Illinois a 4-3 win.

Nevertheless, interim coach David Wheaton and the rest of the team got a huge boost from the loss. And that’s just what the Gophers (8-12, 5-5 Big Ten) need as they head into the Big Ten Tournament beginning Thursday and running through Sunday in Champaign, Ill.

“The big question was whether we can compete with an elite team,” Wheaton said. “The answer was an emphatic ‘Yes,’ and that gives us a lot of confidence.”

Knowing that garnering an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament with a sub-.500 record is unlikely, seventh-seeded Minnesota needs to make some serious noise in the tournament, beginning with taking care of 10th-seeded Wisconsin (8-13, 2-8) at 10 a.m. Thursday.

“We know we might need to win the tournament to get in,” sophomore Nic Edlefsen said. “And we definitely have to win at least a few matches.”

But that might not be so easy, despite the confidence the near-miss against Illinois gave the team.

“It really shows what we’re capable of,” sophomore Mikey Kantar said. “It shows that we have tremendous potential and are capable of beating anyone, if we’re performing at the level we can.”

However, the Gophers’ first match against the Badgers didn’t go so well. A short-handed squad was missing three of its top six players in a 7-0 loss April 8.

Even if Minnesota does take care of business against Wisconsin this time, the team would have a tough go of it Friday against Ohio State, the conference’s No. 2 seed, with an 8-2 Big Ten record.

The Gophers dropped a close 4-3 decision in Columbus, Ohio, on March 27. But that was at full strength.

Now, the team is without the suspended Andres Osorio. But Wheaton said he’s hoping to get word from the NCAA on whether Osorio can return before the tournament begins.

Either way, Wheaton said he’s content with Minnesota’s current squad – on that gave the No. 4 team in the country all it could handle.

“Our goal is to win the Big Ten; it’s pretty simple,” Wheaton said. “Our intensity is very high, and I’m confident that we’ve put in the work needed to succeed.”