Since Minnesota claimed a share of the Big Ten regular-season title last weekend, the team’s expectations are at an all-time high.
The No. 23 Gophers will travel to Urbana, Ill., for the Big Ten championships Friday through Sunday, looking to build upon the best season in recent memory.
After defeating then-No. 3 Illinois and then-No. 27 Northwestern to finish off the regular season last weekend, the team earned a first-round bye and the No. 3 seed in the tournament.
“[The] past weekend was really tough,” head coach Geoff Young said. “[So], it’s nice to be able to [get the bye] and keep our legs fresher. But we’ll be there, and we’ll get to practice on the courts. We’ll be ready.”
Minnesota clinched a share of the Big Ten title — along with Ohio State and Illinois — for the first time since 1995.
“It’s definitely nice to be recognized,” Young said. “It’s nice to be rewarded for all the work.”
The Gophers will face either No. 6 Penn State or No. 11 Michigan in the Big Ten championships on Friday in the quarterfinal round.
The Gophers dominated both teams in spring competition, defeating Penn State 4-0 while only dropping two sets out of 12 against Michigan.
“We are just trying to keep ourselves sharp, and that’s really it,” Young said. “It doesn’t matter who our opponent is — we just try to focus on our own thing.”
Minnesota has lost only one doubles competition in conference play to Ohio State.
Young said winning the doubles competition is a huge lift for his team.
“To have your best spot be doubles, that’s an advantage,” he said. “I would always want our best spot to be doubles because then we go into [singles play] up by one.”
Minnesota’s singles competition has also been consistent throughout the season.
Senior Leandro Toledo at No. 1 singles has a favorable spring record and was named the Big Ten Men’s Tennis Athlete of the Week twice.
Toledo is currently ranked No. 25 in the nation in singles.
The Gophers also struck gold on two freshmen: Matic Spec and Felix Corwin. Spec leads Minnesota with 29 singles victories, and Corwin isn’t far behind.
This year, Spec has made his way to No. 57 nationally in singles.
But now the freshman will head into a high-pressure situation at his first Big Ten championships.
“We just [have] to go out and play like we did up to this point,” Spec said. “Nothing has really changed. It’s not like we are a better team than we were two or three months ago. I think we just have to continue fighting and concentrate match-by-match.”
Corwin will also enter his first spring conference championship. But he said the experience of playing Big Ten teams in the past will help Minnesota make a tournament run.
“We’ll be seeing teams that we’ve beaten or lost to earlier in the season, so I think that’s exciting,” Corwin said. “I also love brackets and stuff, and tournaments are just awesome. We are in really high spirits right now, obviously, with our success recently. But we are ready to do more.”