Coach’s former school to face Gophers

Gophers coach Chuck Merzbacher left Ohio State after 16 years.

Women's Tennis Coach Chuck Merzbacher directs training routines during practice on Wednesday, April 3, 2013, at Baseline Tennis Center.

Jaak Jensen

Women’s Tennis Coach Chuck Merzbacher directs training routines during practice on Wednesday, April 3, 2013, at Baseline Tennis Center.

Dane Mizutani

Minnesota women’s tennis head coach Chuck Merzbacher admitted this is a big weekend for him.

His Gophers need to bounce back after three straight losses, but he also has a personal tie to Sunday’s match.

After hosting Penn State on Friday, Minnesota will host Ohio State — Merzbacher’s old stomping grounds — on Sunday.

Merzbacher coached at Ohio State for 16 years but left when the opportunity to coach Minnesota presented itself last summer.

“They’re going to want to beat me, and I’m going to want to beat them this weekend,” he said, chuckling. “I’ve kind of got two teams this weekend, the Gophers and a team I recruited over there with Ohio State.”

Merzbacher replaced former coach Tyler Thomson, who took the head coaching job at William and Mary after last season.

Merzbacher played tennis for the Gophers in college and holds their all-time career wins record with 137. Merzbacher graduated in 1987 and competed professionally with appearances in both the Australian Open and the Wimbledon qualifier before he started to coach.

The Gophers alumnus started his coaching career at Northern Illinois and landed in Kansas before he was courted by Ohio State.

He coached the Buckeyes to nine NCAA appearances and 209 victories. He left Ohio State as the winningest head coach in program history.

He said the administration at Ohio State was supportive and understood his decision to leave.

“It ended well there and gave me a chance to come back to my alma mater,” he said. “It was not a rough parting at all.”

Merzbacher said the matchup will be a little surreal at first but will be OK once the match starts. He said it helps that he knows exactly what to expect this weekend.

“I recruited every kid on that squad, so I know what we are up against,” he said. “I know those kids. I know their families. I want them to have success, but I want to win this weekend.”

Palen back in the singles lineup

Senior Alexa Palen made her long-awaited return to the singles lineup last weekend against Illinois.

She won her match at No. 6 singles 6-2, 6-3.

Palen competed at No. 1 or No. 2 singles for most of last season, but a severe back injury sidelined her toward the end.

“I’m pumped that Alexa played last weekend,” Merzbacher said. “She has great leadership and a lot of fight … and she won. I’m proud of her.”

Merzbacher said Palen had a little back pain after she played both doubles and singles for the first time since she returned to the lineup.

He said he won’t know until Thursday whether Palen will play both singles and doubles again this weekend.

“We’re feeling pretty good about her recovery,” he said.