Women’s tennis draws motivation from many sources

Jabari Ritchie

Thirteen miles away from the dozen tennis courts enclosed in a pair of inflated white domes at Bloomington’s Northwest Athletic Center, a brand-new 22-court, indoor-outdoor, on-campus tennis facility is being constructed.

Soon, the Gophers tennis teams will call the building home. But first, Minnesota’s women’s team must face Iowa in its final regular season match of the year on Friday.

“Even though we’re glad to be leaving this facility, there’s a lot of nostalgia wrapped up in these bubbles,” coach Tyler Thomson said after Thursday’s practice. “A lot of Gophers players have played here over the years and it would be nice to go out on a good note.”

While Minnesota (6-14, 1-8 Big Ten) hopes for a win in its final match in Bloomington, the Gophers have plenty of other reasons to be motivated.

Not only could a victory keep Minnesota from being seeded 11th at the upcoming Big Ten Championships, but the Gophers could hurt streaking Iowa’s chances at reaching the NCAA regional.

After dropping three straight conference matches to top 50-ranked Ohio State, Illinois and Northwestern, the No. 55 Hawkeyes (7-11, 4-4 Big Ten) knocked off Michigan and Michigan State to keep their postseason hopes alive.

“I think we’re pumped,” sophomore Valerie Vladea said. “We had a tough weekend last weekend, but we played well and I think we can beat them.”

Despite dropping road matches to Illinois and Northwestern by 6-1 scores last weekend, Minnesota is feeling optimistic about Friday’s match. The Gophers, who lost 5-2 at Iowa last season, have won five of their last seven meetings with the Hawkeyes.

“I think our team as a whole has been playing much better towards the end of the season,” senior Jennifer Howard. “We’re coming on strong at the end. Everybody’s getting along well, playing well and supporting each other really well too, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

While Minnesota struggled to its worst conference start ever ñ losing the first six Big Ten games of the season ñ the team has improved this month.

The Gophers have received solid performances from their No. 1 doubles combination of Vladea and Michaela Havelkova, which has won four of its past five matches and is now ranked 58th in the nation ñ and have also had more depth recently.

In April, Minnesota has won three singles matches outside of the top two positions after earning just one in the past two months of conference play.

“In every match we’ve been trying to focus on improving just one thing,” said senior Andrea Rose. “I think we’re competing a lot better, just with more experience. Last weekend we played some tough teams, but I think Iowa is about level with us, so it will be a really good match.”

 

Men’s tennis on the road

Minnesota’s No. 24 men’s tennis team has two more chances to improve its national ranking and its seeding for the Big Ten tournament before the conference regular season ends this weekend.

The Gophers (12-6, 5-3 Big Ten), who are coming off a home split with Northwestern and Illinois, have practiced outdoors all week in preparation for their matches at Iowa and Wisconsin.

“It’s a little windy, but it’s good to be out,” said junior Thomas Haug. “The best players in the world probably play outdoors 11 months out of 12, and in Minnesota you’ve got to play outside every day you can.”

Jabari Ritchie covers tennis and welcomes comments at [email protected]