David La

After beating down Big Ten bottom-dwellers Penn State 7-0 last weekend, the Gophers men’s tennis team now finds itself among the other formidable bullies on the Big Ten playground.
The lunch money is up for grabs at the Big Ten championships this weekend in Ann Arbor, Mich., but up to this point the Gophers have not shown the ability to wrestle it away from the tough trio of Illinois, Michigan and Purdue, the top three seeds in the Big Ten.
The Gophers will go in as the No. 4 seed with a 7-3 Big Ten record. The three losses came from the aforementioned big three, each by a final score of 4-3.
Those close matches, however, have given the Gophers confidence that they are on the threshold, provided they can capture the pivotal doubles point.
In tennis, each of the six singles matches are worth one point, and the team that wins two out of three doubles matches gets the one point for the doubles competition.
Though they won the doubles point in losing efforts against Michigan and Purdue, the Gophers dropped all three doubles matches to Illinois. Getting to the point continues to be the goal for Minnesota in its bid to win the tournament.
“The doubles point are really crucial come championship time,” assistant coach Adam Cohen said. “It puts a lot of pressure on the other team to go out there knowing they have to win four out of six singles to win the match.”
Cohen, a member of the last Gophers Big Ten champion team in 1995, underscored the importance of the doubles point by pointing out that at one point this season Minnesota was 10-9 overall, and in the ten wins the Gophers won the doubles point eight times.
Interestingly, one of the exceptions to the doubles-point-equals-victory rule was Indiana, the No. 5 seed, and Minnesota’s first opponent this weekend.
“Anytime you go into the Big Ten tournament, it’s a whole different season,” Cohen said of the team’s attitude toward the Hoosiers. “We won 4-3 last time, but it was a very close match. We know that this team is dangerous.”
If Indiana is formidable yet unpredictable, the same can be said for Gophers senior Tom Chicoine. Chicoine, Minnesota’s school record holder for wins with 113, is recovering from a pulled stomach muscle that has kept him inactive since April 10th.
So while his game might be rusty, his confidence is well-oiled.
“I think if everyone’s healthy, we’re the best team in the Big Ten,” Chicoine said. “Our whole team is back for a stretch run.”
A Gophers victory Friday against Indiana would most likely lead to a match with top seed Illinois, who must first beat the winner of the Iowa-Wisconsin match. Chicoine is ready for the probable showdown.
“I think they think we’re the second best team in the conference, even though we’re seeded fourth,” Chicoine said. “I think player for player our lineup is as good as (Illinois’) or better.”