Sauska takes lead role for Gophers

Tim Klobuchar

A pattern is starting to develop on the Gophers women’s tennis team. Last year, Alice Rangsithienchai had an impressive Minnesota debut, staking a claim to the No. 2 singles spot with a strong fall season. She won 24 matches overall and was named first-team All-Big Ten.
She and several other freshmen helped the Gophers, who had never finished above seventh in the Big Ten tournament, to a tie for third. Those performances, by individuals and the team, set a tough precedent.
The 1997 season is very young, but a similar success story might be developing.
Nora Sauska, a freshman from Budapest, Hungary, is already well on her way to surpassing Rangsithienchai’s accomplishments from last season. Sauska has already ascended to the No. 1 singles position, due in large part to the two tournaments she won this fall, and has an 11-1 singles record entering this weekend’s home matches against Drake and DePaul.
The team, meanwhile, has what coach Martin Novak feels is his best recruiting class at Minnesota, giving the Gophers an excellent chance for an even higher finish this year.
The head of that recruiting class is obviously Sauska, whom the Gophers secured thanks to getting to her early.
“We saw her in the Orange Bowl International tournament two years ago,” Novak said. “I’m sure there were all kinds of schools after her, but we were one of the first ones to contact her, and we got good feedback.”
Jealousy between teammates, on the college and pro level, can be disastrous. No such envy of Sauska’s rapid rise to the top of the singles line-up.
“We’ve really been stressing the team concept the last few years,” Novak said. “I think Alice understands that. She’s not too far behind Nora, anyway.”
According to Novak, it’s attitudes like that from the older players — even more than the talent of the younger ones — that has sent the Gophers into the upper echelon of the Big Ten.
“A lot of credit goes to the returnees,” Novak said. “They really take care of people when they get here.”
What also makes Minnesota’s emergence surprising is its non-returnees. Dana Peterson, last season’s No. 1 singles player, graduated. Tiffany Gates, who missed last year because of a shoulder injury after making the NCAA tournament in 1995, transferred to Notre Dame. But the players who stayed, and the ones who arrived, have more than made up for the losses.
“It takes a little work ethic,” Novak said. “And this team is willing to step up. Last year the freshmen said seventh place wasn’t good enough. Now, third place isn’t good enough.”
Men’s track and field
The Gophers are in Ames, Iowa, today and Saturday for the Iowa State Invitational.
Minnesota currently has four athletes who have provisionally qualified for the NCAA indoor championships: Benjamin Jensen and Tye Harvey (both in the pole vault), Wil Kurth (high jump) and Chad Yenchesky (shot put).