Baseline set to host NCAA regional

Aaron Blake

When Minnesota’s men’s tennis team defeated then-No. 21 Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals April 26, it received the chance to play host to an NCAA regional this weekend.

With that regional beginning Saturday, the Gophers’ focus now shifts to laying new pavement in the NCAA tournament.

If Minnesota can make it past the regionals and to the Sweet 16, it will have set a new benchmark for the program. But nobody on the team seems to be satisfied with just winning their first two matches.

“We have a great opportunity to advance further than any Minnesota team has before us,” senior Manuel Lievano said. “We have the talent and are playing on our courts with hopefully a lot of people there.”

The top-seeded Gophers begin their quest Saturday at Baseline Tennis Center. Their first round match with fourth-seeded Binghamton is set for 11 a.m. Second-seeded Oklahoma State then battles third-seeded North Carolina at approximately 2 p.m. The winners face off on Sunday at noon for a trip to the Sweet 16.

No. 11 Minnesota

The 11th-ranked Gophers (20-5, 10-3 Big Ten) ended up falling to No. 1 Illinois in the finals of the conference tournament. Still, Minnesota has recorded one of its best winning percentages in history and has wins over two other regional hosts in No. 13 Kentucky and No. 15 Tulane.

The Gophers will go with the same lineup they used in the Big Ten tournament. Fifty-second-ranked Aleksey Zharinov will play No. 1 singles and 82nd-ranked Thomas Haug will be at No. 2.

Binghamton

The Bearcats (17-9, 5-0 America East) received a berth in the NCAA Tournament by winning their conference tournament April 27. They have no experience against ranked teams but have won nine of their last 10 matches.

“It’s tough to come up with any kind of scouting report,” Gophers coach David Geatz said. “So you don’t worry about what they can do. You’ve just got to worry about yourself. If we go out, play well, and do the things we need to do, we should be okay.”

No. 25 Oklahoma State

The Cowboys (16-4, 7-3 Big 12) improved their seeding by advancing to their conference tournament final before falling to No. 3 Baylor.

They have steadily climbed the rankings since the beginning of the season, moving up 44 spots from 69th-ranked to begin the season. They beat No. 10 Texas A&M and carried an eight-match winning streak into the Big 12 final.

No. 48 North Carolina

The Tar Heels (11-11, 4-6 ACC) were booted early in their conference tournament and their record is nothing to gawk at. Nonetheless, they have some top-ranked singles players and have prepared themselves with a tough ACC schedule.

No. 32 Trystan Meniane, No. 58 Nicholas Monroe and Derek Porter were all named all-conference selections.