Minnesota ends another difficult season with one eye trained on the future

Bob Wothe

Minnesota’s women’s tennis coach Tyler Thomson sat on a bench between courts at Baseline Tennis Center, sweat rolling down his face as he gazed over the courts.

Thomson had just finished a personal marathon of wind sprints with his players, so the perspiration was understandable.

The distant stare wasn’t immediately explicable, but it summed up how Thomson is looking at the end of the team’s season.

“We know our chances for the NCAA Tournament are very slim,” Thomson said. “People sometimes say you shouldn’t look ahead, but our goal now is to build and improve on things we need to do next year. Everyone has things to implement into their game, and every match is an opportunity to do that.”

The 11th-seeded Gophers (6-14, 1-9 Big Ten) will get such an opportunity today when they take on sixth-seeded Purdue (9-12, 6-4), at 10 a.m. in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament in East Lansing, Mich.

With a 1-9 Big Ten record for the second-consecutive year, the reality for Minnesota is winning the Big Ten title is just about the only way its season will continue into the NCAA Tournament.

And because the Gophers lost to the Boilermakers 7-0 just five days ago, losing every singles and doubles match, the prospect of another chance to work on their play is unlikely.

On the other hand, all three doubles matches against Purdue were narrow 9-8 losses, and Lindsay Risebrough and Jane Anderson’s singles matches went to three sets, giving the team some confidence.

“We think it was a good first-round draw,” Anderson said. “Everyone thinks we have a good chance, because there were so many close matches that we barely lost.”

Thomson said he relishes the chance to play even one more match and hopes a strong finish will serve as a solid starting point for next season.

“I compare it to a football team in a bowl game,” Thomson said. “It’s a head start for next season, and we’ve got to take advantage of that.”

And his players, all of whom will be returning next season in hopes of turning the program around after two down years, seem to be buying into Thomson’s view.

“I think we all kind of knew this was a rebuilding year,” Anderson said. “I don’t think everyone is going to come out next year and be a complete rock star, but we’ve improved so much already, and we will all get better.”