Regionals offer men’s tennis team new life this year

Michael Rand

Gophers men’s tennis coach David Geatz doesn’t think his last four teams were complacent when it came to the NCAA regionals.
But there also wasn’t an overwhelming sense of urgency or hunger in those four years because the teams had won Big Ten titles. Everything after the conference title was “just gravy,” Geatz said.
This season is different. After a disappointing third-place finish at the conference tournament, the Gophers are looking at this weekend’s regional tournament as a final chance for redemption and a way to salvage an otherwise disappointing season.
Minnesota (11-11), the No. 6 seed in the six-team tournament held in South Bend, Ind., will face third-seeded Notre Dame on Friday morning in the first round.
If the Gophers defeat the Irish — one of their biggest rivals — they will play Big Ten champion Michigan, an even bigger foe, Saturday. Minnesota lost to both Notre Dame and Michigan during the regular season.
But the injuries that hampered the Gophers during the regular season and in the Big Ten tournament have had a chance to heal during the team’s two-week layoff from competition. Geatz said his players are as healthy as they’ve been all season.
And the coach said he and his team would like nothing more than to pull a first-round upset to gain a shot at the second-seeded Wolverines. When the Gophers lost to Illinois in the semifinals of the conference tournament, they lost their shot at playing Michigan.
“I told Michigan’s coach, ‘You can’t really call yourselves the Big Ten champs until you beat us,'” Geatz said. “Hopefully, we can settle what we feel is the real Big Ten championship.”
To beat Notre Dame, the Gophers will need to forget about their loss at the conference tournament. Geatz said the team has had a few good practices in a row and is finally coming out of its post-tournament doldrums.
“Everybody was really down after Big Tens. Our guys thought we had lost everything,” Geatz said. “But people are starting to come out of it.”
Ben Gabler, who lost the deciding match in Minnesota’s loss to Illinois, said he sees the regional tournament as a rebirth for the team.
Gabler said it was difficult accepting that Minnesota’s streak of four Big Ten titles is over. But, he added, members of the team can’t hang their heads forever.
“We have a great shot this weekend. I think we can turn things around,” he said. “Right now we don’t have anything to show for our season. I just want to end things on a good note.”