Women’s tennis in Los Angeles to take on Pepperdine in NCAA Regional action

Coach Tyler Thomson is stressing to his players to focus on academics and tennis in preparation.

Aaron Blake

With just days until its first NCAA tournament appearance in three years, coach Tyler Thomson has Minnesota’s women’s tennis team taking part in an interesting type of preparation.

“Frankly the preparation has been almost entirely geared toward academics,” Thomson said.

He’s not referring to breaking down the finer points of the sport either. The Gophers have prepared for their NCAA regional date this weekend in Los Angeles by finishing up their studies, writing papers, and taking part in “splintered” groups at practice.

The team’s approach to practice has been maintenance more than mastery. Participating when they can, Thomson hopes to keep his players’ games in tact while he worries about the opponents.

First in line is Pepperdine. The third-seeded Waves play the second-seeded Gophers on Friday at 10 a.m. Following this bout is first-seeded UCLA and fourth-seeded IUPUI at approximately 1 p.m. The winners battle Sunday at 1 p.m. for a berth into the Sweet 16 the following weekend.

No. 26 Minnesota

Heading into the tournament, Minnesota (18-6, 11-2 Big Ten) has won nine of its past ten matches. The Gophers fell just short against No. 16 Northwestern in the conference tournament final after winning the regular season title.

Thomson said if anything, the loss to the Wildcats increased the Gophers’ confidence.

“That was a match that hung in the balance of a couple points and could have gone either way,” Thomson said. “We take more confidence than deflation from that match.”

No. 40 Pepperdine

The Waves (12-13, 5-1 West Coast) are a traditionally strong program which suffered a bit of an off-year. Playing a strong schedule, wins over No. 43 Oregon and No. 44 San Diego represent their finest moments.

“They’ve had one of the toughest schedules in the country,” Thomson said. “And they have some very talented and experienced players. It’s a team that won’t be wide-eyed and not used to the pressures.

“The key word there is that they’re talented. You’ve got to always expect that they can play their best tennis.”

Gracing the roster of the Waves are both No. 64 Natalie Braverman and No. 77 Charlotte Vernaz.

Pepperdine won five of its first six matches, then lost 11 of 12 and closed the season by taking six of seven duals. The team is 1-9 against teams participating in the 2003 tournament.

No. 13 UCLA

The Bruins 13-10 overall and 5-8 Pacific-10 record shouldn’t cause anyone take them lightly. Despite the average win-loss totals, UCLA has played the best teams college tennis has to offer and even beat them.

Victories of note for the Bruins include No. 8 Tennessee, No. 18 Arizona State, and No. 22 Arizona twice. They have played seven of the top 10 teams in the country and several of them twice. No team on their schedule ranks below 60th.

On the roster for UCLA are No. 12 Sara Walker, No. 20 Jackie Carleton and No. 50 Susi Wild. As a team, the Bruins have advanced past the regionals in 20 of the past 21 years.

IUPUI

The Jaguars (16-4, 10-0 Mid-Continent) qualified for the national tournament by winning the Mid-Continent title April 19. IUPUI has not yet faced a ranked team this season.

Nonetheless, the Jaguars have won their last 11 matches and 17 of their last 18 after beginning spring by losing a pair of matches.

Aaron Blake covers tennis and welcomes comments at [email protected]