After .500 year, Gophers confident heading into offseason

Daily File Photo

Jules Ameel

Daily File Photo

The Minnesota womenâÄôs tennis teamâÄôs season ended late last month in the Big Ten tournament with a 4-0 defeat to the nationâÄôs No. 1 team, Northwestern, but the strides the 2008-09 team made are pointing them in the right direction for next season. The Gophers recorded some memorable victories, picking up quality wins against non-conference opponents Missouri and Iowa State, as well as against conference foes Purdue once and Penn State twice . But it was a close defeat at the hands of the University of Washington in February that stuck out most in Minnesota coach Tyler ThomsonâÄôs mind. âÄúThey were a team that was in the top-25 on occasion this year and we were their equal that day and the match could have gone either way,âÄù Thomson said. âÄúThere were a number of matches this year where I felt like the whole team showed up and gave a really unified effort and that was one of them.âÄù The Gophers finished the season with a 12-12 record (3-7 in the Big Ten), which was a decline from the previous seasonâÄôs 15-11 record, but that record isnâÄôt a sign of a lack of effort. âÄúI think this team laid one more stone in the path toward where we want to go,âÄù Thomson said. âÄúWe were competitive with the better teams this year; next year we want to beat them.âÄù Junior Tijana Koprivica will be one player who will be vital to that success next season. She was named the teamâÄôs most valuable player this season, compiling an overall record of 22-14. âÄúThe award is a great thing, but what makes it special for me is that the team picked me,âÄù Koprivica said. The Belgrade, Serbia native became the first underclassman to earn team MVP honors since 2005 when Nischela Reddy won the award. Koprivica has led the Gophers in victories the past three seasons and is in position to leave her mark on the program entering her senior season. She is currently 20th in school history for career singles victories with a record of 69-38 and has recorded at least 20 wins in all three of her seasons at Minnesota. Another 20-win season would put her at least sixth on the Gophers all-time list, maybe higher. âÄúShe was playing the best tennis of her career toward the end of the year and I think sheâÄôll take it to another level next year,âÄù Thomson said. âÄúShe is on path to really solidify her place in the history of Gophers tennis as one of the best ever.âÄù Minnesota ended the season winning three straight matches before the season-ending defeat against the Wildcats, and Koprivica felt the team would carry that momentum into next season. âÄúI think the whole team improved a lot and gained confidence and believed that we can play with the big teams this year,âÄù she said. âÄúNext year, hopefully we can build on that confidence we had in the last couple of matches and keep believing we can do great things.âÄù Three other Gophers won postseason awards as well. Peta Forsyth was named the teamâÄôs most improved player, Liz Tusler was named the most enthusiastic and Alex Seaton won the Belmar Gunderson award, which is awarded to the athlete who consistently finds a way to persevere in the midst of adverse conditions and unfavorable odds. Seaton had three different knee surgeries while at Minnesota, Thomson said.