Gophers prepare for dual season in spring

The women’s tennis team will open their season with three dual matches this weekend at Baseline Tennis Center.

Senior Caroline Ryba looks to return the ball at Baseline Tennis Center on Saturday, Mar. 4, 2017.

Chris Dang, Daily File Photo

Senior Caroline Ryba looks to return the ball at Baseline Tennis Center on Saturday, Mar. 4, 2017.

Max Biegert

The Gophers have had little time to practice with the coaching staff as the spring season approaches, but that does not mean they will be unprepared.

Minnesota’s last match was on Nov. 5. Since then, the Gophers went through a noncontact period between coaches and players for about a month and a half. The NCAA restricts the amount of time the coaches can be around the team. Senior Mehvish Safdar said the girls had to stay disciplined and continue to work on their games, even though there were not any scheduled practices. 

“We have to find the heart to make sure we were staying on top of things,” Safdar said. “We were doing a really good job of keeping each other accountable.”

Minnesota will play on Friday against Northern Iowa before playing a double header on Saturday against Sacramento State and South Dakota State. First-year head coach Catrina Thompson will make her spring season debut for the Gophers along with her assistant coach Brian Ward. 

“We are excited to play the first three matches at home,” Thompson said. “These are the first [spring] home matches for this coaching staff and for the girls, so we couldn’t ask for a better opening.”

The Gophers enter the season with two seniors on the roster in Safdar and Caroline Ryba. Ryba was named All-Big Ten last season after going 15-7 in singles, while playing in the No. 1 singles spot. Safdar played in the No. 1 doubles spot with her partner, junior Caitlyn Merzbacher, and the duo went 11-12. Thompson said she will rely on both of their experiences as the season gets on its way. 

“They have been through quite a few matches and they know what it is like to compete for the Gophers,” Thompson said. 

They both have played numerous tennis matches and have gone through a coaching change right before their last year in school. The previous head coach, Chuck Merzbacher, left to coach men’s tennis at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga.

Thompson was hired in July, along with her assistant coach, Ward. In the fall, the Gophers played in four tournaments, where players were split up from each other. Thompson said she and Ward worked with each other from September to November, and that she used the time to implement her own philosophy. She also got to know the girls on an individual level and see how they play. 

“The new coaching staff has really made us tough in all aspects,” Safdar said. “They are very driven, focused and have pushed us to our limits.”

Safdar is excited to start the last spring season of her career. She said lining the sides of the court watching or playing in the deciding match is as exciting as anything. 

The Gophers have set goals of making a run at the Big Ten title and an NCAA berth, but Safdar knows it won’t come easy. 

“I think we know that to get to those goals we have to get that work in,” Safdar said. “Main goal is to make sure myself and our team come out of the season knowing we put it all on the line.”