Gophers’ depth fuels their success

Minnesota is a combined 30-6 at No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 singles.

by Dane Mizutani

The Gophers women’s tennis team has made the doubles point an area of emphasis all season, but the depth of the roster might be its best-kept secret.

Minnesota is a combined 30-6 at No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 singles this season — a stark contrast to last season, when that area of the lineup was plagued with injuries and inconsistencies.

“In our previous years, we kind of struggled toward the bottom half of the lineup,” junior Julia Courter said. “It’s great that we have so much depth on this team and we know we’re going to get great matches throughout the lineup.”

Gophers head coach Chuck Merzbacher said earlier this year that he needed to see more production from the bottom half of his lineup.

That group has responded to the challenge.

Courter is 8-1 at No. 4 singles this season. She said she takes a lot of pride in taking pressure off players at the top of the singles lineup.

“We’ve been practicing really hard up into the matches, and it’s been really successful for us,” Courter said.

While Courter has found a home near the bottom of the lineup, junior Aria Lambert and sophomore Paula Rincon Otero have added to the depth of the team, too.

Lambert is 4-3 this season at No. 5 singles, and Rincon Otero is 5-1 at No. 6 singles.

Merzbacher said he’s gotten to the point this year when he almost expects wins from those players.

“It takes a lot of pressure off of the top half of the lineup,” Merzbacher said. “We want to win with our depth.”

And so far, that depth has led to success in the win column.

Minnesota is 9-3 this season after winning 10 matches all of last year.

Merzbacher said the depth of his team has played a large role in the improvement.

“We just ran out of players last year with all the injuries,” he said. “Now we’re strong at every spot.

“That’s big now, but it will be even bigger for us in the Big Ten season.”

And while Rincon Otero said it is good to take pressure off of some of the top players as the Big Ten season approaches, she said the pressure isn’t exclusive to the top half of the lineup.

“It takes pressure off of them, which is good,” she said, “but there is pressure for us, too, because we all want to be in the lineup.”

Still, that pressure seems to be a good thing for the Gophers this season.

And Lambert said the bottom half of the lineup, in particular, wants to keep the success rolling this weekend.

“We feed off of our previous wins,” she said, “and we just want to keep the momentum going against Marquette.”