Heat paralyzes Gophers,Mississippi does the rest

by Michael Rand

The hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth was a sweltering 136 degrees Fahrenheit in Al’Aziziyah, Libya.
But if Gophers men’s tennis coach David Geatz is ever asked to name the world’s hottest location — say as a game show contestant or in casual conversation — he may be tempted to guess Athens, Ga.
Even though Athens, the site of this year’s NCAA tennis tournament, was about 40 degrees short of the record, no place could seem more punishing to Geatz and his team. Unbearably hot, humid air and a talented Mississippi squad combined to send the Gophers home with a first-round loss.
Minnesota didn’t win a set and finished its season 14-12.
The Bulldogs’ 4-0 win, as well as the rest of the tournament, featured chilled towels and dizzy players as much as it showcased service aces and overhead smashes.
“We melted like a bunch of Popsicles,” Geatz said. “The weather was a huge factor. We could not have won that match in a million years. If it was inside, I think we would have had a fighting chance.”
Minnesota freshman Tom Chicoine experienced cramps so severe he had to be taken to a local hospital. Geatz said two players from Louisiana State collapsed from heat exhaustion, and a player from New Mexico State had to be “peeled off of the ground.” Every member of the Gophers team felt light-headed after his match, the coach added.
But Geatz and team members refused to use the weather as an excuse. Minnesota has an advantage when it plays indoors, as was evident at last weekend’s regional tournament, Erik Donley said.
“Not playing outside is one of the disadvantages we have in being here,” Donley said. “We should expect it, but it’s tough to prepare for it. When it’s that hot and you get chills — something’s wrong.”
Because of an unseasonably cold spring, the Gophers have not played outdoors as often as they normally would. And because of the rain last Tuesday and Wednesday, the Gophers weren’t able to practice outside before traveling to Georgia.
Donley said Mississippi’s coach was worried about playing the Gophers if the weather was bad and the teams had to play indoors. But the coach’s nerves subsided when he found out the match would be held outside, Donley added.
Despite losing by a large margin, Donley, the only senior on the team, said just going to the national tournament was a huge thrill. Minnesota, which hadn’t been to nationals since 1989, had come agonizingly close in each of Donley’s first three years on the team.
“The whole ambiance of the tournament is great. You’re there with the best players in college tennis,” he said. “The stadium seats something like 2,000 people. It’s just a beautiful setting.”
Donley said players from UCLA and Stanford, two of the top teams in the country, had heard about Minnesota’s upset win in the regionals and congratulated the Gophers on making the tournament.
“Win or lose, it was just a great experience,” Donley said.

Notes: Junior Lars Hjarrand, the No. 29 player in the country and top singles player for the Gophers, remained in Georgia and will compete in the NCAA Singles Championship beginning on Wednesday. Dana Peterson from the women’s tennis team also begins competition at the women’s national singles tournament this week in Tallahassee, Fla.