Minnesota led by upperclassmen

The Gophers lost their first match of the season 4-1 to Oklahoma State.

Minnesotas Jack Hamburg returns a shot against Purdue on Sunday, April 14, 2013, at Baseline Tennis Center.

Daily File Photo, Emily Dunker

Minnesota’s Jack Hamburg returns a shot against Purdue on Sunday, April 14, 2013, at Baseline Tennis Center.

by Dane Mizutani

Minnesota’s men’s tennis team might have lost its most talented player from last year’s squad, but it managed to hold on to a veteran-filled roster.

Given that, a 4-1 season-opening loss to Oklahoma State last weekend doesn’t faze the team too much.

It’s a bit of rust — something almost all teams encounter early in a season — and the players aren’t letting it affect their game.

“In that first match, our energy … was good and where it should be, but the tennis wasn’t exactly where it should be,” junior Jack Hamburg said. “It’ll get there eventually.

“It was our first match of the season, and there is nothing to be worried about.”

That’s the type of confidence that years of experience evokes.

Minnesota head coach Geoff Young said he’s satisfied with the effort his team has put forth both last week and this week, but he said it’s tough to simulate match-like intensity in practice.

“There’s always a little bit of an adjustment period getting used to matches compared to practice,” he said.

While it might take a couple of matches to develop the footwork and striking skills again, the surplus of upperclassmen on the roster should help shorten that adjustment period.

The Gophers graduated No. 1 singles player Rok Bonin from last year’s squad, but they boast six upperclassmen this season.

“We lost Rok, who was a very good asset to our team — our best player last year — but we’ve got guys with a lot of experience now,” Hamburg said.

But that experience doesn’t automatically equal on-court success, so Young doesn’t want his veteran squad to blindly lean on its experience.

“We have most of the lineup back, but what we did last year doesn’t matter,” the head coach said. “It’s over, and what matters is our players’ approach and willingness to compete and get better every week.”

That doesn’t appear to be a problem.

“We’re all ready to take that next step.” Hamburg said.

Sophomore Ruben Weber has already taken that next step, Young said.

“I think the skill was always there, and confidence is a big part of the jump he’s made,” Young said. “He’s been here a year and has learned some things, and now he knows he belongs.”

Weber competed at No. 2 singles last weekend against the Cowboys. Young alluded to the fact that the sophomore from Germany could play a pivotal role in the Gophers’ singles lineup this season.

Still, as he always does early in the season, Young remained fairly coy about his lineup.

“I don’t really concern myself with the lineup,” he said. “That will work itself out. I don’t really care what the lineup is. I just want our guys to be as good as they can be on the court.”

That full potential might not come to fruition until a couple of months from now, but players will have another chance this weekend to knock off a bit more rust.