U tennis learns to play without Gates

by Tim Klobuchar

While Tiffany Gates was injured last year, the Gophers women’s tennis team had to face a whole season without the two-time All-Big Ten performer.
As it turned out, Minnesota needed the practice.
Gates, the only player in Gophers tennis history to make the NCAA Singles Championships, transferred to Notre Dame earlier this year.
This weekend both Gates and the Gophers will be in South Bend, Ind., for the Notre Dame Invitational. Gates is still recovering from the shoulder injury that kept her out of action most of last season and will not play for another two weeks. But she still expects to talk to some of her old teammates.
“I hope so,” Gates said. “It would be nice to see them again, but it’ll be weird. I still can’t believe I’m not at Minnesota.”
Gates told coach Martin Novak of her decision in late May, saying she wanted a chance to play on a national championship contender. Notre Dame finished sixth in the nation last year.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t like Minnesota,” she said. “But this team (Notre Dame) could do anything this year, and that’s important to me. It’s the best place for me to improve my game.”
Novak would probably not be thrilled with that statement, considering the Gophers tied for third in the Big Ten last year, the best season in school history. But he professes not to be too concerned with the turn of events.
“I can’t judge her motives,” he said. “I only take control of what I have control over. We proved we could win without her last year, and I think we’ll do it again this year.”
A few other factors helped make Gates’ decision easier. For one, her hometown of Grandville, Mich., is only one and a half hours from South Bend. Also, she never had an injury that kept her out of action, making her final season as a Gopher almost unbearable.
“It was a hard year last year,” Gates said. “It was really frustrating, and I was ready for a new start.”
A superb crop of freshmen helped compensate for Gates’ absence last year, and Novak thinks he has another great recruiting class this year. All of which makes it easier for the team to downplay Gates’ departure.
“She’s just another player,” said junior Jennifer Hayes. “She wouldn’t play number one this year — she’d be right around number three. It really has no effect on me.”
Gates, who said she figures she’ll be the number two or three player when she comes back, likes Notre Dame and the small-school setting, but doesn’t regret going to Minnesota.
Gates’ brother, Brent, was a baseball player at Minnesota from 1989-91, and it was on visits to watch him play when Tiffany first grew to like the University. Actually, she never stopped liking it.
She emphasized that she had no problems with either the tennis program or the coach at Minnesota, so a fear of upsetting them made it that much harder to leave.
“It was a really hard choice for me,” Gates said. “I did worry. But I had to do what I thought was best for me.”