Gophers face prospect of a third one-win Big Ten finish in four seasons

A frustrating regular season concludes this weekend with a pair of difficult duals.

Bob Wothe

For the third time in four years, Minnesota’s women’s tennis team appears headed for a one-win Big Ten campaign.

In both the first and third seasons of coach Tyler Thomson’s tenure (2002 and 2004), the Gophers were 1-9.

Between those two difficult seasons was what’s looking like more and more of an anomaly, when the team went 9-1 in 2003 to win its first-ever regular-season Big Ten title.

But the defection of some of its top players after that season led to the disappointing 2004 squad, and now, a frustrated 2005 team that had looked to be on the rebound early on.

Although the Gophers (6-12, 1-7 Big Ten) have shown signs of improvement throughout the season and are a squad with just three upperclassmen seeing playing time, Minnesota has beaten just one Big Ten team (Penn State) in the last two years of conference play.

The team will be hard-pressed to break that streak this weekend when it travels to take on No. 50 Illinois (11-8, 5-3) and No. 52 Purdue (7-12, 4-4).

But, as Thomson said in March, before the season began, almost every Big Ten team is beatable based on talent alone.

Sophomore Ida Malmberg, who came through in the clutch to clinch Sunday’s win over Penn State for the Gophers, said they needed the match to prove to themselves they’re actually capable of winning.

“This match is what our season has been all about,” Malmberg said. “We’ve always been very close in all of our matches and just barely lose. Now that we won, we feel that we can win those close matches, and that gives us confidence for next weekend.”

So even though only No. 1 singles player Nischela Reddy knows what it’s like to beat a Big Ten team other than Penn State, the Gophers now appear to believe they can actually do so.

“We know we’re there with the other teams,” sophomore Lindsay Risebrough said. “Going into Illinois and Purdue next weekend with a win shows us that we can do it. It’s our time now.”

If she’s right, it will be a welcomed turnaround.

Because it hasn’t been Minnesota’s time for approximately two years.

“The whole year, we’ve had some people playing great but not playing the big points great,” assistant coach Luciano Battaglini said. “Anything’s possible. This match showed us that we can win a lot if we play well. But we can certainly lose a lot if we don’t too.”