‘Dangerous’ Gophers pick up pair

Bouncing back from an 0-4 Big Ten start, the Gophers rolled to wins against Michigan State and Iowa.

by Zach Eisendrath

Minnesota men’s tennis coach Geoff Young did not hesitate.

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what: Men’s tennis
when: Noon, Saturday
where: Evanston, Ill.

Before the Gophers set out to play a pair of conference duals over the weekend, Young – without a stutter, a waver or a pause – said his team had evolved into a dangerous team heading into April, despite the fact it had lost 14 of its first 16 dual matches and, at the time, was 0-4 in the Big Ten.

Dangerous? Indeed.

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what: Women’s tennis
when: Saturday
where: Baseline Tennis Center

The Gophers – sending a message that they won’t just lie down in the final few weeks of the season – looked downright scary this weekend, beating No. 70 Michigan State 6-1 Friday afternoon at the Baseline Tennis Center and then upsetting No. 52 Iowa 4-3 in Iowa City on Saturday.

“I think (we’re) dangerous in the sense that we know we are getting better and that we don’t have that much to lose,” senior captain Raoul Schwark said. “When you look at our record, it’s not that good, but we are playing better. Teams may underestimate us because of our record, but that’s a big mistake.”

Minnesota, which entered the weekend with all four conference losses coming to ranked teams: No. 2 Ohio State, No. 14 Michigan, No. 45 Indiana and No. 51 Penn State, looked better than advertised in both duals.

All season long, the Gophers have struggled in two areas: doubles play and winning close matches. Saturday, though, a different Minnesota team showed up in Iowa.

The Gophers earned their first doubles point of the Big Ten season by emphatically beating the Hawkeyes at the No. 2 and No. 3 doubles positions. Senior Chi Pham and freshman Tobias Wernet won 8-4 at the No. 2 position, while Dumas and senior Schwark won 8-3 at No. 3 doubles.

From there, Minnesota did what it needed to do, winning three singles matches: Pham (No. 5 singles), Wernet (No. 2) and Schwark (No. 1), to complete the upset.

“Like the coaches say every time, if we win doubles point against teams that are equal, we’ll win the match,” Schwark said.

On Friday, no adversity – from losing the doubles point to adjusting to playing outside then inside following a 40 minute rain delay – could keep the Gophers from recording their first conference win of the spring season.

Minnesota responded to losing the doubles point to the Spartans by simply winning all six singles matches, clinching the victory when Pham won 6-1, 2-6, 6-3 at No. 5 singles.

Freshman Tobias Wernet said the Gophers’ season took a turn upward after Minnesota went neck-and-neck with the 14th-ranked Wolverines last weekend, despite losing 5-2 in Ann Arbor.

“I think the Michigan match was the key to this weekend. It was pretty close. It showed us that we are close to those teams,” he said. “It showed us that we can play at that level.”

Young said he is most pleased with the fact that his team – now 4-14 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten – continues to improve week-in and week-out.

“I feel like we are fresh and playing our best tennis,” he said. “With our record being what it is, I feel pretty good about things.”

With plenty of time left to position itself with a higher seed in the Big Ten tournament, Minnesota continues to build confidence, Wernet said.

“I think we’ve improved throughout the whole season from match to match,” Wernet said. “We’ve (played with) more energy.”

Women drop pair

The Minnesota women’s tennis team lost a pair of road duals over the weekend – one within the Big Ten and one out of conference play.

The 57th-ranked Gophers lost 4-3 at Michigan State on Saturday, then fell 5-2 to No. 73 Western Michigan on Sunday.

On Saturday, Minnesota was in a hole early after losing the doubles point. The Gophers rallied to tie the dual at 3-3, but Michigan State’s Lindsey Lonergan beat Minnesota sophomore Jackie Sperling in three sets, 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 at No. 5 singles, sealing the match for the Spartans.