Gopher Invitational challenges hosts

WomenâÄôs tennis coach Tyler Thomson predicted his squad would have to fight for what they got in this weekendâÄôs Gopher Invitational, and he was right. By the time Sunday rolled around, the Gophers had just two players competing for a championship in one of six separate flights and they were doubles partners . This scenario was a far cry from last yearâÄôs tournament, when then-freshman Alessandra Ferrazzi went 8-0 en route to first place in both the top singles and doubles brackets . Minnesota may have been hosting the event, but the home team definitely wasnâÄôt given any free passes. In 2007, the Gophers finished the Gopher Invitational 40-20 overall, with 26-15 and 14-5 marks in singles and doubles, respectively. This year, Minnesota ended the weekend 21-12 with records of 13-8 and 8-4 in singles and doubles, respectively. Perhaps much of the difference can be explained not by a change in the Gophers but rather in the opposition. Ten teams competed in the 2008 Gopher Invitational , up from the seven participants of a year ago . Ferrazzi noted a distinct improvement in Nebraska, and Louisiana State arrived in the Twin Cities already highly regarded. âÄúThey have a different type of grittiness than some of the northern teams,âÄù Thomson said, also saying that LSUâÄôs players have a kind of âÄústringencyâÄù that differentiates them from other squads. Nevertheless, Thomson was unfazed by the discrepancy in record. âÄúIâÄôm less concerned about results and more concerned about identifying the things we need to work on,âÄù he said. âÄúOverall, I think we did pretty well.âÄù In this yearâÄôs singles competition, sophomore Peta Forsyth and Ferrazzi were the only Minnesota players to reach the semifinals. Forsyth was stopped by Air ForceâÄôs Sarah Cassman in three sets, 2-6, 7-5, 10-3. Ferrazzi suffered her lone defeat at the hands of LSUâÄôs Megan Falcon, the nationâÄôs No. 15-ranked player. Ferrazzi rebounded quickly, however, ousting FalconâÄôs doubles teammate Mikayla Hedberg 7-6, 6-3 to capture third place. âÄúI didnâÄôt expect to win the tournament like last year,âÄù Ferrazzi, who was prevented from playing any matches over the summer due to an injury, said. In doubles action, all three Gophers tandems advanced past the first two rounds. Unfortunately for Minnesota, the semifinal round brought the No. 11-ranked doubles team in the nation, Falcon and Hedberg, who dispatched Ferrazzi and junior teammate Tijana Koprivica 8-1. Forsyth and junior Liz Tusler also fell, beaten 8-6 by Jennifer Holmberg and Maria Ring of Nebraska. Sterling junior Jackie Sperling and freshman Magdalena Wiecha were SaturdayâÄôs only survivors, overcoming LSUâÄôs Hannah Robinson and Whitney Wolf 9-7. Sperling and Wiecha, scheduled to play one another in a consolation match following their championship bout with Falcon and Hedberg, were quite the unlikely pair. The two had never played together, and were given all of two practices to get acquainted before the start of the tournament . But their shot at a championship ended when Wiecha fell ill and the team was forced to forfeit SundayâÄôs final while down 5-2 . Still, Thomson was impressed with the surprising duo, observing that Sperling and Wiecha possessed âÄúa nice chemistry.âÄù âÄúThey made their opponents play,âÄù he articulated. âÄúThey didnâÄôt give away a lot of free points. I think it is exciting that we seem to have found a team that has some good potential together.âÄù âÄúWe just played one point at a time,âÄù Sperling explained. âÄúWe were focused and we wanted it.âÄù At the end of the day, Thomson appeared slightly satisfied with his squadâÄôs showing. Thomson said he would give the teamâÄôs performance a grade of âÄúB minus.âÄù âÄúWe still need to do the things that are right, even though they might feel uncomfortable strategically,âÄù he said. âÄúWe had moments that we were doing really well but we definitely have areas where we need to execute the game plan.âÄù