The first six weeks of the Gophers women’s tennis team’s season was a test, and Minnesota aced it with nine wins in its first 10 matches.
This past weekend, Minnesota tacked on some extra credit.
No. 34 Minnesota won its seventh and eighth consecutive matches, rallying to defeat No. 52 Tulane 4-3 on Thursday and No. 50 Louisiana State on Saturday in its final two matches of the nonconference season.
The Gophers (11-1) also won their third consecutive road match against a ranked opponent and improved to 7-1 against teams in the top-75 nationally.
Minnesota fell behind 3-1 to Tulane despite winning the doubles point for the first time in its last three matches. But the Gophers recovered with victories at Nos. 1, 2 and 5 singles.
Alexa Palen won her 10th straight singles match to start the spring season, defeating Tulane’s Emma Levy 6-4, 2-6, 6-0 at No. 2 singles to pull the two teams even at 3-3.
The Gophers’ Natallia Pintusava delivered the finishing blow, defeating Tulane’s Mariam Kurdadze 6-0, 3-6, 6-4 at No. 1 singles.
Saturday’s match against LSU followed a similar arc. Minnesota fell behind 1-0 when it lost the doubles point, but it grabbed a 2-1 lead with straight-set wins by Palen at No. 1 singles and Aria Lambert at No. 6 singles.
After the Tigers had evened the match at 3-3, Pintusava came through with another three-set win, battling past LSU’s Whitney Wolf 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 at No. 2 singles
Both Pintusava and Palen have had success at the top singles spot this season — Pintusava is 5-1, Palen is 4-0 — but neither has settled into the role.
Gophers head coach Tyler Thomson said before the team’s road trip that he prefers it like that.
“It’s a nice luxury to have two players that are both capable of playing at No. 1 because it allows us to have some flexibility at those positions,” Thomson said March 6.
Palen (11-0) and Pintusava (8-2) haven’t been the only bright spots for a Gophers team that has already won three more matches than through all of last season.
Junior Doron Muravnik has won 10 of 11 matches while posting a 7-0 record at No. 5 singles.
The team’s freshman class has dominated as well, with Lambert, Julia Courter and Tereza Brichacova combining to win 20 of 28 matches at the middle and back end of the singles lineup.
Courter and Brichacova traded the No. 3 and No. 4 singles spots after losing Friday, but to no avail — the duo finished the weekend 0-4 while winning just 23 of 74 games.
Minnesota’s third and fourth singles spots remain a weakness, as does its inconsistent doubles play, which has forced Thomson to make several lineup changes during the nonconference season.
Still, the team’s early-season success is a far cry from last season when the Gophers started 4-10 and finished 8-16.
At 11-1, Minnesota is off to its best start since Thomson became the head coach in 2001.
Men’s matches washed out
The No. 44 Gophers men’s tennis team had its weekend matches at No. 12 California and No. 53 Cal Poly canceled due to rain.
Minnesota (6-3) will host No. 66 Michigan State on March 23 and No. 25 Michigan on March 25 at Baseline Tennis Center.
The Gophers’ only conference match to date was a 6-1 home win against Wisconsin on Feb. 25.