Big Ten loss to Penn State puts team on NCAA bubble

Zach Eisendrath

One day after Minnesota’s women’s tennis team was bounced out of the Big Ten Tournament by Penn State, 4-3, Minnesota’s men’s tennis team suffered the same fate by the identical score thanks to the Nittany Lions – and hurting its NCAA Tournament aspirations significantly in the process.

The third-seeded Gophers (13-12, 7-3 Big Ten) were stunned on their home court Friday at Baseline Tennis Center as sixth-seeded Penn State (17-5, 5-5 Big Ten) fought off a 3-1 match deficit to eliminate Minnesota in the tournament quarterfinals.

“We lost, but everybody fought hard and gave it their best,” coach David Geatz said.

“Both teams have very even talent levels and it was a close match once again. If we played Penn State a million times we’d probably split half of them. The effort was there, but we’re disappointed.”

After narrow wins at No.1 and No. 2 doubles, the Gophers captured the crucial doubles point – something that usually has meant success for Minnesota. During the regular season the Gophers were undefeated when securing the matches’ first point.

But that was not the case Friday. When sophomore Raul Schwark and junior Andres Osorio won at the fifth and second singles positions, respectively, Minnesota needed to win just one of the three remaining matches.

But then the wheels came off for the Gophers. No. 1 singles player, 58th-ranked D.J. Geatz, fell in two sets 7-6 (5), 6-2 to 68th-ranked Mark Barry and Ryan Berger upended junior Nic Edlefsen in three sets, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 – tying the match. That meant the sixth singles matchup between Minnesota’s Sion Wilkins and the Lions’ Brendan Lynch would decide the duals outcome.

After Wilkins lost the first set 3-6, he responded with a 6-4 second-set victory, forcing a third set. But after breaking Lynch’s serve to take a 4-2 lead, Lynch broke back twice to rally off four straight games and leave the Gophers with an early exit.

“When (Wilkins) was up 4-2, I thought we were going to win, Geatz said. “It just didn’t go our way, but Sion fought hard.

“What hurt us was that we lost the same exact matches that we won the last time we played them.”

Junior captain Mikey Kantar said likewise.

“We weren’t as sharp as we would have liked at a couple spots, but the effort was there,” he said. “It’s a tough way to lose with two matches going 6-4 in the third set. It’s a disappointing way to go out in the Big Ten Tournament.”

The Gophers felt before the match that one win in the Big Ten Tournament would lock a berth into the NCAA Tournament. Now they will be on the bubble as they wait for the committee’s decision Wednesday afternoon.

“We’re one of the best 64 teams in the country and we beat a top 20 team (Texas A&M),” Geatz said. “But it should be close, that’s for sure.”

Kantar agreed with his coach, and said Minnesota would make for an appealing tournament team.

“If we get in, we’re dangerous because we can play at a very high level,” he said.

“Put us in and there will be more interesting tennis than if you leave us out. Tennis isn’t always the most interesting sport, but we have a way of making tennis matches interesting. “

Still, Minnesota would have liked an easier road to victory than placing its entire NCAA Tournament chances on Wilkin’s shoulders.

“We knew (Penn State) would be dangerous,” Kantar said. What’s unfortunate is that it was that close.

“When you’re in the position of the last man on the court as Sion was, it can be fun, but it doesn’t become real tennis at that point. It’s really a coin flip at that point. It’s a tough position to be in.”