Gophers women’s tennis regains composure to split two matches

Aaron Kirscht

The Gophers women’s tennis team, losers of four straight matches after winning their first nine of the season, headed into a pair of tough weekend matches in search of a boost.
In a way, they got it. But they had to hit rock bottom first.
Michigan drummed the Gophers on Friday, 7-0, failing to lose a set. Even Nora Sauska, winner of 11 straight and sporting a shiny 21-1 record, stumbled to a 6-3, 7-5 loss at No. 1.
But on Sunday, Minnesota (10-4 overall, 5-3 in the Big Ten) bounced back with an equally convincing 6-1 victory over Michigan State — including a rare win of the doubles point.
“It was a real great gut-check win for us,” Coach Martin Novak said. “We didn’t play really bad during our losing streak, but we knew (the Michigan State match) was make or break for getting a No. 5 seed.”
The Big Ten tournament starts in two weeks, and the difference between a No. 5 and a No. 6 seed is huge. The lower-flight teams have to play an extra match, while the top five get a first-round bye.
For a while on Sunday, the Gophers appeared to be in trouble again. They began the match with a loss at No. 1 doubles, and the No. 2 team of Jana Hrdinova and Kim Simonsen was trailing 7-3 in the race to eight games.
But then the thrashing began. Hrdinova and Simonsen surged back to win in a tiebreak, as did the No. 3 team of Jennifer Hayes and Helen Wang. The Gophers, playing without All-Big Ten player Alice Rangsithienchai, would lose only one match the rest of the way. Tarah Elkins lost in two sets at No. 4 singles.
Rangsithienchai sat out the Michigan State match after suffering from severe hyperventilation midway through the second set of her Friday match against Michigan.
She had been on medication, but her coughing led to a shortness of breath and she began to panic.
“When someone is gasping for air,” Novak said, “there’s very little you can do but try to settle them down. We called an ambulance, got her breathing under control and everything was OK.”
She is expected back next weekend for road matches against Northwestern and Wisconsin.
Men split weekend matches
The men’s tennis team has been doing some scrambling of their own, struggling to a sub-par 8-10 record, 4-4 in the Big Ten.
But on Friday, with conference-leading Northwestern in town, the Gophers had a chance to improve on what Coach David Geatz called a “horrendous” start to the season.
The match was close, as they say, but no cigar. Minnesota won the doubles point (as it has in every match this season) and Adam Selkirk won easily at No. 4, but Northwestern rattled off five singles wins for a 5-2 win.
The match was decided at Nos. 5 and 6 singles, where both matches went into the third set. A pair of tiebreak points prevented Martin Michaelowski from a win at No. 5, and John Cheregi, serving with a 5-4 lead, couldn’t hold on.
The Gophers went down swinging, but Geatz was still far from satisfied.
“For us, to hang close to somebody doesn’t mean a thing,” he said. “Our guys are so used to winning the Big Ten, winning the (NCAA) regionals. There’s no such thing as a moral victory for us.
“We’re still in it to win the thing. Second is as good as last for us.”
With their 6-1 blowout of Wisconsin on Saturday, Minnesota again reached the .500 mark in the Big Ten. But parity reigns in the conference, and the Gophers — with a couple of wins next weekend at Purdue and Illinois — are still in line for a high seed in the Big Ten tournament April 25-27.
“I’m not happy with where we are in terms of the record and standings,” Geatz said, “but I think the team is playing OK. We’ll be better in two weeks, and that’s what’s important.”