Minnesota’s men’s tennis team won’t head into its ninth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance with many positive memories about its surroundings.
On Thursday, the Gophers leave for Malibu, Calif., where they were soundly defeated 7-0 by eighth-seeded Pepperdine in March. They take on Arizona State on Saturday.
After failing to upset Illinois in last week’s Big Ten Championship match, Minnesota was not seeded in the NCAA tournament.
“We have a very tough draw,” said fourth-ranked junior Harsh Mankad. “We’ve played at Pepperdine before, so we know what to expect and Arizona State’s pretty good. It will be a tough match.”
If the 22nd-ranked Gophers get past the Sun Devils, they will take on the winner of the first-round match between Richmond and host Pepperdine.
Minnesota is 0-9 all-time against the Waves, who boast the nation’s third-ranked player in Al Garland.
“We’re all ready to play and go back to Pepperdine,” said junior captain Thomas Haug. “We were there earlier, over spring break, and we all played well. Unfortunately, we got a little ass kicking by them. It’s payback time.”
Following the March 19 loss at Pepperdine – capping off a Gophers run of just two wins in six matches – Minnesota won four straight, including an upset at Southern California.
The Gophers have lost just three of 13 matches since the loss to the Waves, including two against the third-ranked Illini.
While Pepperdine is on Minnesota players’ minds, the Gophers aren’t looking past No. 34 Arizona State. The Sun Devils, who hold a slim 3-2 advantage over Minnesota all-time, fell 4-3 in their last meeting with the Gophers.
“We’re not happy with the draw we got, because it’s a really tough draw,” said Haug. “But if our goal is to win the NCAA, it doesn’t matter what draw we got.”
In its NCAA tournament appearances in each of the past eight years and in six other berths scattered between 1970 and 1989, Minnesota has never reached the national quarterfinals.
The Gophers have finished the year tied at ninth five times, with the latest round of sixteen appearances coming in 2000.
“The goal is to win it. Why have anything else as your goal?” said Mankad, who will also compete in the individual NCAA tournament. “We have to play every match one match at a time and the draw is very tough. We have our work cut out for us.”
Mankad and Haug to compete in doubles
Minnesota’s No. 1 doubles pair of Big Ten Player of the Year Mankad and All-Big Ten Haug, which had a 10-5 record this season, has qualified for the NCAA doubles championships.
“When (Haug) told me we got in, I was pretty excited because I didn’t know if we would make it or not,” said Mankad. “Now that we’re in, I think if we play well together we could really go a long way in the tournament.”
Mankad, who has been ranked No. 1 in the nation this year, also earned a trip to the NCAA singles championships.
The matches will be played from May 23-27 in College Station, Texas.
Jabari Ritchie covers tennis and welcomes comments at [email protected]