Tennis teams fall short in finals

WBy Aaron Blake While Minnesota’s men’s tennis team battled Illinois on Northwestern’s campus Sunday, the Gophers’ women’s tennis team was doing battle with the Wildcats on Illini soil.

Confused?

All said, it was a successful weekend for Minnesota tennis. Each team advanced to the championship in its respective Big Ten tournament fields.

Despite each team falling short in the title match, both have positioned itself well for the NCAA Tournaments which begin in two weeks.

Illini stop men’s run

Minnesota’s men got about as far as it or any other team could have hoped in Evanston, Ill. The Gophers faced the unenviable task of upsetting Illinois after defeating Penn State and Ohio State in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.

Top-ranked Illinois then did what it has done all year, beating its opponent and leaving little doubt in the wake. Though the 17th-ranked Gophers (20-5) stole the doubles point from the bulletproof Illini (26-0), they would eventually fall 4-1.

“We knew it would be a close,” Minnesota coach David Geatz said. “We needed to win some close matches and some big points. That’s what we didn’t do. But we played as well as we could play.”

Gophers Thomas Haug and Avery Ticer beat Amer Delic and Michael Calkins at No. 1 doubles. Manuel Lievano and Clay Estes teamed for a 9-7 win over Rajeev Ram and Brian Wilson at No. 2 to seal Minnesota’s lone point. It was the first time Illinois lost a doubles point since Feb. 23.

The Illini’s trio of top-25 singles players all defeated their Gopher nemeses. No. 4 Delic beat 66th-ranked Aleksey Zharinov 7-6 (5), 7-5 at No. 1, No. 25 Ram defeated 65th-ranked Haug 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 at No. 2, and No. 11 Brian Wilson downed Chris Wettengel 6-2, 6-2 at No. 3. Every player listed but Wettengel was named to the 13-player All-Big Ten team Friday.

But not all was lost for the Gophers. After falling to Ohio State 4-3 on April 19, Minnesota dropped from No. 11 in the country to No. 17. Saturday’s win should easily place the Gophers back into the top 16 and in line to host an NCAA regional.

Geatz is looking forward to the home-court advantage.

“We’ve got the slowest courts in the country,” Geatz said. “We haven’t lost a match there or even come close. When we got to play Ohio State on some courts similar to ours this weekend, we beat them.”

Women can’t repeat feat

Minnesota’s women also advanced to the Big Ten title match this weekend in Champaign, Ill. Quarterfinal and semifinal victories over Penn State and Purdue, respectively, set the Gophers up with Northwestern.

Unlike earlier in the season, though, No. 29 Minnesota could not overcome the 19th-ranked Wildcats, losing 4-2 on Sunday. The Gophers’ 4-3 win April 6 snapped the Wildcats’ 29-match conference winning streak.

The women are in no position to host a regional in two weeks, though. Despite winning the regular season crown, the Gophers now look to be in position to get a No. 2 seed when the pairings are announced Wednesday.