Slumping women’s tennis team bows out in Big Tens

by Mark Heller

MADISON, Wis. — By losing three of its last four regular season matches, the Gophers women’s tennis team stumbled into the Big Ten tournament.
Then the Gophers stumbled out of the tournament.
Minnesota lost its opening round match 4-3 to Michigan on Friday at the Nielsen Tennis Center in Madison. The single-elimination tournament means the Gophers will need some help if they want to be accepted to the NCAA regional tournament.
The match appeared to be a blowout at 3-0 after Minnesota lost the doubles point and Helen Wang and Kim Simonsen were defeated in singles.
But Tammy Wang won at No. 6 singles for Minnesota, taking the first set in a tiebreaker before cruising 6-0 in the second. Close wins by Nora Sauska and Alice Rangsithienchai pulled Minnesota into a 3-3 tie.
Tarah Elkins made a ferocious comeback in the third set before losing in a tiebreaker, securing the win for Michigan.
After dropping a close first set 6-4 to Sora Moon, Elkins gathered herself and responded in the second set, winning 6-2.
“In the first set I was impatient and not very controlled,” Elkins said. “In the second set I kept more balls in play, and I was more aggressive in coming to the net and put more pressure on her to pass me.”
That set up the third set, and Elkins quickly fell behind 5-1.
“I wasn’t sure what was going on with the rest of the courts. If someone else lost, (the match) is over. Then I realized that people started coming over to my court and I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, my teammates must have won.’ I was just going to play. I don’t have anything to lose here. I’m the one that’s behind.”
Elkins wasn’t behind much longer, as her furious comeback gave her a 6-5 lead.
“I just kept saying, ‘Hang in there; win one more point.’ She was feeling the pressure to put the match away and she wasn’t hitting shots. I thought coming to the net was the best strategy and force her to pass me, and she didn’t.”
After Elkins won five games in a row on the brink of defeat, Moon won the next game, pulling her into a tie at 6-6. In the tiebreaker Elkins dropped the first two points, fought back again, but fell just short, losing 7-4.
“When I got ahead 6-5, it hit me like, ‘I can actually win this right here,'” Elkins said. “Then I think I started feeling what Moon was feeling.”
Elkins might not have been in a must-win position if the Gophers’ doubles play hadn’t virtually given away a free point once again.
In what has become a trend during the last half of their conference schedule, the Gophers lost the doubles point. Michigan’s Brooke Hart/Danielle Lund defeated Sauska/Rangsithienchai 8-5 and Sora Moon/Jennifer Boylan beat Wang/Elkins 8-4. Jana Hrdinova and Jennifer Hayes had their doubles match stopped after Michigan won the first two.
While Minnesota’s problems in doubles play have potentially cost them at least three matches in the past month, including Friday’s, members of the team seem to have slightly different reasons for the problem.
“We don’t seem to have that killer instinct right now,” Gophers coach Martin Novak said. “In doubles you have to be aggressive and make plays.
“We fight, but it’s almost like we’re playing too nice. We apologize for hitting someone with the ball, and there is no real sense of urgency, like we’re saying, `We’ll just come back in singles.’ I don’t know, maybe we need to make some lineup changes.”
Said Rangsithienchai: “I really don’t know. I don’t know if it’s intensity or confidence or what, but there’s something lacking in all three (doubles) teams. I think we need to put a lot more emphasis on doubles play during practices, especially movement and confidence.”
The problem is that the Gophers might not practice again this year. With the loss, Minnesota needed Northwestern to beat Indiana, giving the Gophers fifth place in the conference.
That didn’t happen, as Indiana upset Northwestern, dropping Minnesota to sixth. Novak said the top five or six teams from the Big Ten have a chance of being invited to the regionals.
Selections should be announced around the middle of the week. The NCAA Midwest Regionals will be held May 15-17 in Illinois, and the NCAA Championships will take place May 23-31 in South Bend, Ind.