Top-seeded women’s tennis team ready

A lot comes along with winning a conference championship.

Sure, there’s the given celebration, permanent smiles and added confidence for the postseason. But along with all that comes added pressure.

Minnesota’s women’s tennis team (16-5, 9-1 Big Ten) are the top seed in the Big Ten tournament and will take on ninth-seeded Penn State this morning at 9 a.m. in Champaign, Ill. The Lions defeated eighth-seeded Iowa in Thursday’s first round. Minnesota received an opening round bye.

While the team’s first conference tournament title would look nice alongside its first regular season championship, second-year coach Tyler Thomson will leave Champaign happy as long as his team comes out strong.

“If we get into the finals, it will be a successful tournament,” Thomson said. “We don’t want to pigeon-hole ourselves, but if we could get into the finals, we’d feel we’ve done pretty well.

“We’re proud of our regular season and want this (championship) just as badly. But we’re going in with nothing to lose.”

As they have done all season, the Gophers will rely on its youthful squad this weekend. The team’s only senior, Michaela Havelkova, has helped Minnesota by going 5-5 in the conference mainly at No. 3 singles. But the newfound talent of freshman Nischela Reddy (9-1) and junior transfer Angela Buergis (9-1) have clearly paced the squad.

The two newcomers will team up at No. 1 doubles in the tournament. Amy Thomas and Valerie Vladea paired up at the position for most of the year, but Thomas suffered an adverse reaction to a cortisone shot last week and missed last weekend’s matches.

“After going 8-0 together (in the Big Ten), Reddy and Buergis deserve to represent us at No. 1,” Thomson said. “Amy is doing much better, she’s practiced. The warm weather helps, it’s easier on her.”

Men’s tennis

While Minnesota’s men’s tennis team did not win the Big Ten regular season title like the women, its performance this year is nothing to scoff at.

The 17th-ranked Gophers enter the conference tournament this weekend in Evanston, Ill., as the third seed with an 8-2 Big Ten record (18-4 overall). The team’s four losses are the fewest in a decade.

“Our guys are ready to play, this team has the best bunch of competitors I’ve been around,” 15-year coaching veteran David Geatz said. “They really compete hard. Every single time we go out there, win or lose, they play hard. One guy giving 75 percent can kill a whole team and we don’t have any of that.”

The third-seeded Gophers received a first round bye and will take on 11th-seeded Penn State today in Evanston. The Lions upset sixth-seeded Iowa on Thursday.

While Penn State is the top priority at this moment, there’s another team close by on the Gophers’ radar.

Following an eight-match winning streak spanning nearly a month, Minnesota was defeated last Saturday 4-3 by Ohio State. To say the loss left a bad taste in the Gophers’ mouths would be an understatement. It is clear Minnesota wants revenge.

“We want to get back at Ohio State,” Geatz said. “We want to go out and win our first match and then put a beating on them. That’s what we’re hoping for. We want to play them again more than any other team.”

In order for that to happen, Geatz said the seniors have to step up this weekend.

Though bothered by just about every ailment possible in recent years – from athlete’s foot to a torn knee ligament – Geatz singled out Thomas Haug.

“As a sophomore, I thought he could be the best in the country,” Geatz said. “He was really good and then he has those serious injuries. He’s still really, really a good player and needs to play like it this weekend.”

Also on the table for the men’s team is the opportunity to host an NCAA first round match. The top 16 teams in the country do just that and a couple of quality wins at the Big Ten tournament will likely secure a host option for the Gophers.

– Staff Reporter Aaron Blake contributed to this report

Men’s golf

Minnesota’s men’s golf program announced Thursday the signing of Clayton Rask to a national letter of intent. Rask will be eligible to play for the Gophers for the 2003-04 season.

Rask, a native of Otsego, Minn., was the medalist of the 2003 Tri-State Invitational while leading his Elk River squad to the team title. Rask has been the top-ranked high school golfer in the state for the past three years. He played in the U.S. Junior Amateur in Atlanta, Ga., last summer.

Rask will soon start qualifying for the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open Championship.

Rask joins Mike Fiedler, a native of Fairbault, Minn., who signed during the fall signing period, in the 2003-04 recruiting class for the Gophers.

“We are excited to have Clayton join the (Minnesota) golf program,” coach Brad James said. “He brings a tremendous work ethic and the potential to shoot very low scores. With the addition of Clayton, we’ve now signed two of the best young golfers in the state of Minnesota.”