A lot on the line for Gophers in dwindling number of Big Ten matches

Minnesota needs to pick up big wins this weekend to keep out of the Big Ten cellar.

Minnesota men’s tennis coach Geoff Young sees his young team playing its best tennis of the season right now.

And with the Big Ten Tournament just under a week away, that’s a good thing.

Winners of three of their last four conference matches, the Gophers play their final two conference matches this weekend when they welcome No. 17-ranked Illinois to the Baseline Tennis Center on Friday at 3 p.m. and Purdue to their homecourt at noon on Sunday.

“I see a lot of things on the rise,” Young said about his team’s continuous growth. “We are playing with positivity and energy and I think we are playing fresh.”

Minnesota (5-15 overall, 3-5 Big Ten), which currently stands in seventh place in the Big Ten, has plenty to play for this weekend. Should the Gophers pick up one or two wins this weekend, they could vault to the sixth or stay at a seven seed in the conference tournament. However, an unsuccessful weekend would likely mean the eighth or ninth seed and a possible second-round tournament encounter with No. 2 Ohio State, which has won 34 consecutive Big Ten matches.

Other than trying to pick up their first “big win” of the season against the Illini – who were the NCAA tournament runner-up a year ago – and picking up a quality win against the Boilermakers, Minnesota will be playing with the motivation of trying to send its two seniors – Raoul Schwark and Pierre Dumas, out of their final home matches on the right note.

“I think they will play hard because they don’t want to leave with a loss,” sophomore Tobias Wernet said. “I’m sure they will fight to the last point.”

Women finish on road

Coming off a weekend in which the Minnesota women’s tennis team played its most consistent tennis of the season, the Gophers will look to find that steadiness again when they finish up their regular schedule this weekend at Illinois on Saturday and at Purdue on Sunday. Both duals are scheduled for 11 a.m. starts.

“We had a lot of good things happen last weekend and it’s important to continue forward with that momentum so that we can be successful this weekend,” coach Tyler Thomson said.

“The biggest thing will be how badly we want it, how hard we compete.”

Minnesota, which is currently in a four-way tie for seventh place in the conference, can finish anywhere from sixth to 10th in the Big Ten depending on how the final weekend of the conference regular season turns out.

Like the Minnesota men’s tennis team, the Gophers (13-9, 2-6) are hoping to avoid either the eighth or ninth seed in the Big Ten Tournament so they don’t have to possibly face one of the nation’s best team’s in the second round.

Should Minnesota finish in one of those spots, then win its first round matchup, the maroon and gold would have to face top-ranked Northwestern, which beat the Gophers 7-0 last Sunday, in the second round.

“We’d like to avoid that position because we would like to go as far as we can in the tournament and Northwestern would be a daunting task,” Thomson said.