Youth fills void for women’s team

Two underclassmen have helped the Gophers amid a tough season.

Minnesota's Jessika Mozia returns the ball against Montana on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, at the Baseline Tennis Center.

Bridget Bennett

Minnesota's Jessika Mozia returns the ball against Montana on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, at the Baseline Tennis Center.

Dane Mizutani

Minnesota’s women’s head tennis coach Chuck Merzbacher has acknowledged all season that his roster is littered with youth.

That youth that has led the team at times.

Though a junior and a sophomore hold the top two spots in the singles lineup, freshmen Paula Rincon Otero and Jessika Mozia have contributed greatly to the Gophers.

“They really kind of in a way saved the season,” Merzbacher said of his freshman class. “We had three very good returners not in our singles lineup, and those guys stepped up.”

Rincon Otero is 12-16 this year after she was forced to miss the first third of the season due to eligibility issues. Mozia is 22-16 and the only regular player on the team with a winning record this season.

Rincon Otero, a native of Madrid, Spain, was a touted international recruit. She has shown to be a tactician on the court, but her game has lacked consistency.

Merzbacher raved about Rincon Otero and the talent she brought to the team at the start of the season, but Mozia has been more impressive thus far.

A native of Littleton, Colo., Mozia was a four-star tennis recruit out of Colorado Academy high school and has proven that rank this season. Though she usually plays lower in the lineup at the No. 4 or No. 5 singles position, she has emerged as a leader on the team.

Less than three months ago, Mozia talked about butterflies in her stomach before matches.

Those butterflies seem to have dissipated.

“They were both kind of thrown in the fire and saw some success,” Merzbacher said of the two freshmen. “They were definitely stretched. We had an immediate need for them, and they both responded well.”

Mozia’s response and consistent play as of late was recognized in a big way in mid-April as Merzbacher awarded her a full scholarship for the 2013-14 school year.

Men used loss as a turning point

The Gophers men’s team started the season 3-5 and lost four straight matches at one point.

But a loss to rival Wisconsin that dropped the team to 3-6 was the turning point in the season.

Senior Rok Bonin said the team realized it had talent but needed to change things up on the court.

“We changed some stuff up and gained our confidence back after that loss,” Bonin said.

That confidence has resulted in success. The Gophers have won nine of their last 10 matches entering the Big Ten tournament this weekend.