Despite flight delays with early classes, Gophers ready to start season

The Gophers face off against NC State on Saturday.

Gophers sophomore Matic Spec returns the ball to South Florida in the Baseline Tennis Center on Friday, Feb. 5.

Joe Sulik

Gophers sophomore Matic Spec returns the ball to South Florida in the Baseline Tennis Center on Friday, Feb. 5.

Max Biegert

The Gophers went through their share of headaches to get back from their vacation to Australia during the Australian Open tennis tournament.

Minnesota’s plane from Australia to Los Angeles ended up coming late, which resulted in the team taking different flights and airports to get to Minneapolis. Some didn’t get in until 7 a.m. on Tuesday morning, causing players to go straight from the airport to their 8 a.m. classes. However, senior Matic Spec said the trip was worth the long travel home and they are now ready for the start of the season.

“We ended up running about a mile and a half to get to our connecting flight and when we got to our terminal, we were all drenched in sweat,” Spec said.

The Gophers took off for Melbourne, Australia on Jan. 5 and were there for 10 days. The student athletes kept their fans updated with a blog about each day of the trip. Minnesota had two practices a day, except for one day where they relaxed and enjoyed Melbourne. They explored the Australian Open venue, went to the beach and practiced on grass courts. But now the team starts the season as they face NC State at noon on Saturday, Jan. 20 at the Baseline Tennis Center in their first dual meet of the spring.

“We were using it as a training trip to play outside and spend a lot of time together and talk about what we want to get out each other,” head coach Geoff Young said. “The Australian Open is there and everyone in tennis is there and that turned out to be a cool experience.”

Minnesota ran into some of the greatest tennis players in the world. Jackson Allen and Vlad Lobek spotted Rafael Nadal and was able to take a selfie with him. The Gophers watched Novak Djokovic face off against the No. 5 in the world, Dominic Thiem, in a warmup tournament to the Australian Open. The players took this time to not only make themselves better through practice, but also to enjoy each other and create more chemistry between the team.

“We got to meet a Horia Tecau and Jean-Julien Rojer, a doubles pair who has won the U.S. Open and Wimbledon,” Spec said. “It was a really good experience because we got to talk to them and ask them questions for like an hour.”

The Gophers enter the season with three nationally ranked players. Sophomore Stefan Milicevic enters play ranked 35th in the country after a breakout fall where he went 11-3, including a singles championship at the ITA Central Regional Championship. Spec enters the spring season ranked 73rd in singles. Spec and his partner Felix Corwin nearly cracked the top-25 for doubles competition. They rank 26th after a fall in which they posted a 6-3 record and earned trip to the ITA Nationals. 

N.C. State will offer a challenge as they have the No. 16 ranked singles player in Alexis Galarneau and Galarneau is paired with Michael Ogden to form the No. 32 ranked doubles pairing in the country. 

“I think it is awesome that we get to open against a really good team and see what we are made of,” Spec said. “Regardless of winning or losing, we are looking forward to doing things the right way and competing.”