Men close regular slate on road, women host two

Both teams end their regular seasons against Purdue and Illinois.

by Zach Eisendrath

Minnesota’s men’s tennis team has high aspirations for its last weekend of the Big Ten regular season.

The 37th-ranked Gophers (12-10, 6-2 Big Ten) will head to Champaign, Ill., on Saturday to take on No. 5 Illinois (18-5, 7-1 Big Ten) and West Lafayette, Ind., to take on Purdue (7-12, 2-6 Big Ten) on Sunday afternoon. Both duals start at noon.

With wins against the Illini and Boilermakers, Minnesota would finish the season in second place in the Big Ten, and would enter the Big Ten Tournament with a much more favorable first-round matchup as the conference’s No. 2 seeded team.

Even though the Gophers control their own destiny, they know they will get all they can handle against the fifth-ranked Illini.

“They have unbelievable talent,” coach David Geatz said. “I think they have as much talent as any team in the country. We’ll see what happens.”

Minnesota’s biggest concern with Illinois is in its top three singles positions. Illinois’ No. 1 singles player, senior Ryler DeHeart was last week’s Big Ten Athlete of the Week after winning consecutive matches at the top spot against Kentucky, Wisconsin and Northwestern. He is rated as the eighth-best singles player in the country, according to the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings.

GD Jones and Kevin Anderson are also dangerous at the No. 2 and 3 positions, respectively.

Still, Geatz said he doesn’t want his team giving the Illini too much credit.

“We just have to go out and play and make sure we don’t give Illinois that much respect,” he said. “Sometimes you try to play outside your comfort zone and outside your game and do more than you should do.

“But if we play well, our guys always think we can win.”

Junior Sion Wilkins concurred with his coach.

“We can beat them at every spot,” he said. “It’s just a matter of can we put it all together on the same day.”

Junior captain Mikey Kantar referred to the past few Illinois squads that have made national title and national semifinal appearances as “untouchable,” something he said they aren’t this season.

“They aren’t that way this year. They’re beatable,” he said.

On Sunday the Gophers will look to take care of business against a Purdue team with a sub-.500 Big Ten mark to ensure a top-three finish in the conference.

“We’ve set ourselves up to be in a good place,” Kantar said. “We want to continue that. We want to capitalize on the position that we’ve given ourselves.”

Women look for another

Minnesota’s women’s tennis team will look to conclude an otherwise disappointing Big Ten season on a winning note, when the Gophers (4-16, 1-6 Big Ten) host their final pair of conference duals this weekend at Baseline Tennis Center.

Minnesota will take on Illinois (7-12, 2-6 Big Ten) at 11 a.m. Saturday and the Boilermakers (10-7, 4-2 Big Ten) at noon Sunday.

Last weekend the Gophers suffered arguably their toughest loss of the season to Penn State, 5-2, giving Saturday’s dual with Illinois even more significance.

If Minnesota pulls off the win, it could finish with the same record as the Illini and vault out of the bottom of the conference standings. The Gophers are tied for last with Wisconsin. Minnesota then would own the head-to-head tiebreakers with Illinois and the Badgers.