Gophers to face ‘best team in history’

Ken Zimmer

After a flurry of upsets in the regional tournament, the Gophers men’s tennis team is among the final 16 teams in the country. To advance further, however, Minnesota must do something no other team has done all season: beat Stanford.
Minnesota rallied for upsets over three top 35 teams last weekend, including No. 11 Duke. But the Gophers haven’t faced a team like Stanford all season — or maybe ever.
“People are saying (Stanford) is the best team in the history of the NCAAs,” head coach David Geatz said. “They are a great team and the overwhelming favorite to win the NCAAs.”
The Cardinal will bring a load of intimidation to the courts this weekend in Athens, Ga. Stanford is coming off three straight national championships and its roster contains four players rated in the nation’s top 25.
But perhaps the team is best measured simply by its record. Within a perfect 24-0 season, the Cardinal lost only three games. Minnesota, in contrast, has dropped 54 games during its 14-12 season.
Despite Stanford’s lofty success, the Gophers won’t likely roll over and play dead. Minnesota’s five-match winning streak has given it a much-needed confidence lift.
“The tournament is about whoever wants it the most,” freshman Jorge Duenas said. “We feel like we can beat anyone right now.”
If the squad is to make a run through the NCAAs, two things must continue to happen: dominance at No. 1 singles from Tom Chicoine and overachieving play from the freshmen.
Chicoine has been unstoppable in the playoffs this season, winning all six of his matches in straight sets. His three victories at regionals were all over top 35 players. Chicoine, ranked No. 84 in the nation, also received a bid to compete in the national singles championships held after team play.
“I have a lot of confidence going into singles (championships),” Chicoine said. “I just have to play consistent and confident and take each person as they come.”
But even with Chicoine’s racquet on fire, the team will need help at the bottom of the lineup, where the freshmen on the team came up big at regionals. At No. 4 through No. 6 singles, Jon Svensson, Jorge Duenas and Tyson Parry posted a 6-3 combined record.
Parry’s clutch play was the overriding factor in the team’s regional championship. Subbing for an ill Martin Kristoffersen, Parry won all three of his matches, including two that clinched Minnesota wins. Playing under pressure is not something Parry shies away from.
“I like it,” he said. “(Being the last guy on the court) is always in the back of your head. One thing that separates you from the other guy is who wants it more.”
Even if the Gophers fail to pull off what Geatz called “the biggest shock in college tennis,” they have still proved tough under adversity. Despite a mediocre season and conference tournament, the team won when it had to.
Minnesota’s post-season experience and national recognition will likely help the program in the future.
“We’re already off to a good start next year, before even stepping on the court,” junior Adam Selkirk said.