Lambert emerges in third year

Aria Lambert, 15-5 this season, has served as a key cog in the lineup.

Jace Frederick

The Gophers women’s tennis team has been unpredictable at the top of the lineup this season.

Tereza Brichacova, Natallia Pintusava and Jessika Mozia have experienced peaks and valleys at the No. 1 singles, No. 2 singles and No. 3 singles spots, respectively. The trio has delivered huge wins for the team but has also suffered through its fair share of struggles.

But amid the inconsistency at the top, Minnesota has been one of the steadiest teams in the Big Ten, reaching six conference victories for the first time since 2003.

That’s because the Gophers have had a strong anchor at the bottom of the lineup, holding things down when times are tough.

Minnesota junior Aria Lambert is a stellar 15-5 this season, doing most of her damage at the No. 5 singles spot. And for a team that’s won two of its past three matches via a 4-3 tally, every point matters.

“It means a lot to me,” Lambert said of her success. “If you can get a point on the board, it means so much.”

Lambert hasn’t always been such a consistent source of positive results. She’s been a major contributor since her freshman year, but the junior lingered around the .500 mark in each of her last two seasons.

These days, though, wins are expected of her and losses are few and far between.

Lambert said this year she’s been taking command of points instead of letting her opponents seize control. That mentality has yielded improved results.

“That’s the goal — as I get older, I want to play better,” she said. “I’m definitely reaching my goals.”

Lambert said this is the best tennis she’s played in her collegiate career. It’s also the most confident she’s felt all season.

Now, even when Lambert loses, she pushes her opponents to the limit — three of her five defeats this season have come in third-set tiebreaks, including the only two losses in her last 10 matches.

“She’s doing a great job,” head coach Chuck Merzbacher said. “She’s playing every point really hard and just sends that message.”

Merzbacher said performances from Lambert and junior Julia Courter have established the bottom of the lineup as the Gophers’ strength, but the two need help from the players at the top.

“Those guys [at the top] aren’t going to go away — they can play with anyone,” he said, “but we’re happy to have such a strength [at the bottom].”

Lambert and her teammates at the bottom of the lineup seem more than capable of carrying the load, pushing Minnesota close to an NCAA tournament bid.

“We have such a deep lineup — everyone’s good, everyone’s playing well,” Lambert said. “It’s just been great.”