Minnesota copes with the growing pains that come with such a young squad

A trio of freshmen failed to close out a victory Sunday against Ohio State.

Bob Wothe

In college sports, leadership from upperclassmen is usually a key part in the success of any team.

What, then, to make of Minnesota’s women’s tennis team, with no seniors and just one junior?

Though it’s too early to know for sure, the Gophers’ (5-7, 0-2 Big Ten) lack of leadership and consistency was very visible in a 4-3 loss Sunday to Ohio State. The issue is something they’ve been dealing with for the last year and will battle throughout this season.

In the Buckeyes match, No. 57 Minnesota held a 3-1 lead before dropping its final three matches, including the final one at No. 5 singles, in which freshman Danielle Mousseau lost a third set with the dual on the line after leading it 4-1.

“I think the only reason that she lost that match was because she’s a freshman,” coach Tyler Thomson said. “That’s a tense situation to be in with both teams lined up watching. But she’ll be better because of it.”

In fact, all three losses were by freshmen – Marina Bugaenco at No. 6 to bring the dual to 3-2 and Jane Anderson at No. 2 to put all the pressure on Mousseau.

But Thomson said it’s hard to blame freshmen for making freshman mistakes, and he remained positive about his team, calling it very talented and even praising its consistency throughout the match.

“I thought the level of play was consistent,” Thomson said. “There were momentum swings, but we applied pressure and stayed steady most of the time.”

But when it came right down to it, steadiness went out the window.

And the lone junior who played in the match Sunday – Nischela Reddy at No. 1 singles and doubles – said it’s certainly something that needs to be improved.

“Practicing hard every day of the week is the biggest thing we can do to get better,” Reddy said. “We do lots of drills and play lots of tennis, and if we can give consistent effort at those times, I think we can be consistent in matches, too.”

With a few days remaining before the team’s road trip to take on Michigan State (10-5, 0-3) on Saturday in East Lansing, Mich., and Michigan (6-8, 1-2) on Sunday in Ann Arbor, Mich., working on just that will be the primary objective for the young team.

“We need to focus all the time, even when it doesn’t matter,” sophomore Jenna Tellefsen said. “Even when it doesn’t seem to matter, we’ve got to stay focused, and that will help us be consistent in matches.”