Men’s Tennis face tough challenge in final weekend

Dan Miller

Minnesota men’s tennis team is rolling into its final weekend.

The Gophers (12-7, 7-1 Big Ten) have won six consecutive matches and are 8-1 in their last nine duel matches. But the Gophers will face a tough challenge this weekend to keep the “1” in their conference loss column.

After facing Penn State on Friday night, the 35th-ranked Gophers will face 20th-ranked Ohio State, which also only has one conference loss.

Top-ranked Illinois should be a shoe-in for the top spot in the conference so the match-up this weekend should decide second place in the conference and the second seed in the Big Ten Tournament.

Minnesota coach David Geatz said he feels the challenge comes at the right time. He said Thursday he believes his team is playing its best tennis of the season.

“Every one of the guys on the team is playing up to the level they are capable of right now,” Geatz said.

The Gophers have continued their winning streak despite being without junior captain Avery Ticer, who injured his left foot April 3 against Michigan. He has worn a boot cast and has not played any tennis for 18 days.

Thinking he might be back for the matches this weekend, Ticer saw a specialist Wednesday and said afterward he is “doubtful” for this weekend.

“There’s nothing you can really do about it,” Ticer said. “Things are going to work out for the best. Maybe I’ll get a lot of rest and be fresh for the Big Ten match and regionals.

“But the guys have done a great job these last two weeks; we are on a roll right now.”

In Minnesota’s six straight victories, Ticer has seen his teammates have success even though they’ve been bumped up to higher positions in the lineup.

This has definitely been the case with the Gophers’ top two singles players, Aleksey Zharinov and Chris Wettengel. Zharinov has climbed to No. 52 in the nation and Wettengel is currently ranked 67th.

Wettengel, who is the defending Big Ten singles champion, extended his winning streak to nine after beating Indiana’s Ryan Recht.

Zharinov extended his conference record to 6-2 after making quick work of Neil Kenner 6-1, 6-3.

One of the two will face a top-five ranked player this weekend in Ohio State’s top-singles player Jeremy Wurtzman. He has been ranked in the top spot for much of the season but recently lost to currently top-ranked Brian Wilson from Illinois. Wurtzman is now No. 3 in the nation.

Geatz and the Gophers said they are well aware of the Buckeyes fire power but feel they can fire back.

“(Ohio State) has a top five player, but Alex and Chris are capable of playing on that level,” Geatz said.

Women seek Big Ten win

There is no doubt in one thing going into the final week of the Big Ten women’s tennis season: Minnesota or Penn State will have a conference win.

The Gophers and the Lions are both looking for their first conference wins.

The inexperienced Gophers (2-17, 0-8 Big Ten) are trying to make sure they are the ones who put a mark in the win column.

The Gophers are trying to make sure they are completely healthy after a few players were unable to practice last week due to illness.