U’s season ends with NCAA loss

Aaron Kirscht

The Gophers women’s tennis season came to an abrupt end Friday, losing 5-2 to Indiana in the first round of the NCAA Midwest regional tournament.
And while coach Martin Novak said he was satisfied with his team’s overall performance, he knows his team has plenty to learn before it can climb to the championship ranks.
“We are very skilled,” he said. “We just have to learn how to utilize more than our physical skills. We can hit with Indiana, we can compete with Indiana, but we just don’t have their mental stamina.”
In their first meeting of the season on March 9, the Hoosiers snuck out of Minnesota with a 4-3 victory, thanks to the doubles point. But with the Gophers’ improved doubles play of late, they had hoped to pull a switch — and an upset. In the end, they wouldn’t get a chance.
Under the revised format in the NCAAs, the singles matches are played first, and each doubles match counts for one point. Indiana won four of the six singles matches, and clinched the win over Minnesota when the No. 1 doubles team of Christy Sharp and Jessica Anderson defeated the Gophers’ Tarah Elkins and Jenni Svehla.
Two of the three doubles matches were suspended after Indiana clinched the match. No. 2 Alice Rangsithienchai and No. 5 Tarah Elkins were the only Gophers to break through with victories.
The match bgan under cold and windy conditions, but as the weather worsened, play was interrupted for nearly an hour before continuing indoors.
“(Indiana was) killing us,” Novak said. “Going inside was like a second life for us. We started to even things out and come back a bit.”
But the break wasn’t enough. No. 1 Nora Sauska was never really in the game, falling 6-1, 6-1, to the Hoosiers’ Megan McCarney. Things didn’t go much smoother for Kim Simonsen or Helen Wang, who both lost convincingly in straight sets.
The three blowout losses came at the expense of Minnesota’s three youngest players. But Sauska, Simonsen and Wang had compiled a dominant 56-18 singles record heading into the NCAAs.
“We put out a lot of energy throughout the year,” Novak said, “but I think toward the end we were just hanging on. It’s not a put-down for us, it’s just the reality of how a season goes.
“It shows in patience, it shows in maturity, and that affects the younger players most.”
But with their lineup heavily dominated by freshmen and sophomores, the Gophers appear to be stacked for several seasons to come. Minnesota’s top six players in the win column are underclassmen.
Sauska, who was named to the All-Big Ten team and finished second in voting for the Freshman of the Year award, completed her first season of collegiate tennis with a 23-5 record — one of the best in Minnesota history. No. 2 Rangsithienchai, last season’s top newcomer, was the second-winningest Gophers player this season and narrowly missed a second election to the All-Big Ten team.
Novak said this season, while disappointing in some respects, still bodes well for the future.
“The feedback I’m getting is that (the team) is excited about next year,” he said, “and that’s a great point for us to be at right now. We couldn’t muster the competitive edge this weekend, but we’re still in there, thinking about how we can improve.”
Note: Sauska was invited to play in the NCAA singles championship, which begins next Monday in Stanford, Calif. She’s the third Gophers player in three years to make it to the NCAAs, and the first freshman in team history.