Thomson tries to instill toughness in his team

Bob Wothe

On an end court at Baseline Tennis Center on Wednesday, Minnesota women’s tennis coach Tyler Thomson diligently traded groundstrokes and volleys with junior Megan Steiger for at least an hour.

“I’m tired,” Thomson said afterwards. “It feels like I’ve got blisters on both my feet and hands.”

But if it helps Thomson meet his goal of toughening up his team, the blisters will be worth the pain.

Whether the team heeds his message will become clear this Sunday when the No. 60 Gophers (5-6, 0-1 Big Ten) take on No. 75 Ohio State (5-10, 0-0) at 11 a.m. at the Baseline Tennis Center.

The competitive spirit of Minnesota’s squad has disappointed Thomson in some matches.

“People say that you don’t want to play ‘not to lose,’ ” Thomson said. “But I want the team to reach a point personally where they really have a hatred of losing so that they’re willing to do whatever it takes not to lose.”

He’s tried to instill such an attitude by putting his players through difficult drills and matching them up against his assistant coach, Luciano Battaglini, who was an ITA All-American at Oklahoma Christian in 2000.

If the players beat Battaglini three points in a row, they

win.

But beating a former All-American three points in a

row isn’t exactly easy, as sophomore Jenna Tellefsen can attest to.

“It made you really want the ball and work for every point,” she said. “Once your mind gets upset, your whole game comes apart. So really focusing mentally is important for us.”

And that’s exactly the type of thing Thomson said he hopes to get out of such drills.

“We try to put them in situations where they’re not really comfortable,” Thomson said. “We put them in difficult situations and see if they fight out of them.”

Sunday’s match against the Buckeyes will be telling in measuring just how far the Gophers have come – and how much more work needs to be done.

But Steiger, at least, said she has gotten the message from Thomson loud and clear.

“Every Big Ten match is a dogfight,” Steiger said. “We lost 3-4 to Ohio State last year, and it came down to the last match. We didn’t like the outcome of that one. We’ll definitely play with a competitive attitude because we’re hungry for the win.”

Thomson said his team should get a win Sunday, but added that saying so doesn’t necessarily make it happen.

“On paper, we should probably win,” Thomson said. “But paper doesn’t mean jack.

“We’re just going to have

to outcompete them if we want to win.”