The Gophers men’s tennis team departed on Sept. 13 for a 10-day trip to Japan during which they competed against several Japanese universities.
But the number of miles Minnesota logged on its journey still doesn’t compare to the emotional mileage it racked up during last year’s up-and-down season.
After failing to win a Big Ten title for the first time since 1991, the Gophers stunned three higher-rated opponents at the NCAA Regional Tournament and advanced to nationals for the first time since 1989.
Although Minnesota won’t begin its run at a fifth conference crown in six years until February, this fall’s individual matches should determine who will play in the winter.
No. 1 singles player Lars Hjarrand and No. 2 player Ben Gabler return for their senior seasons, making the Gophers tough at the top of their lineup.
Erik Donley, who played No. 3 singles and teamed with Lars Hjarrand at No. 1 doubles, is the only regular player from last season not returning for the Gophers.
Donley’s absence means the No. 3 slot will likely be filled by Tom Chicoine, Adam Selkirk or Martin Kristofferson, who were all regulars in Minnesota’s lineup as freshmen last season. That trio, which played in the bottom three singles spots for the majority of last season, will likely each move up a notch.
This year’s freshmen — Martin Michalowski, Matthew Peplinski and Aaron Dvorak — along with sophomores Ben Wismer and John Cheregi, junior Robin Rutili and senior Tim George, should battle for the final singles position and could bump one of last year’s freshman phenoms from the lineup as well.
The Gophers conclude their individual season in early February at the Rolex National Indoor Tournament in Dallas.
Minnesota will open its Big Ten schedule in a key match against Indiana on Feb. 21. In perhaps their most important regular season match of the season, the Gophers will host Michigan on April 6. The Wolverines snapped Minnesota’s string of four consecutive conference titles last season.