Upset bid comes up short

by Zach Eisendrath

It took over four hours to eliminate the Minnesota women’s tennis team from the Big Ten tournament, but despite a valiant effort, the Gophers’ season came to an end Friday night at the Baseline Tennis Center.

Seventh-seeded Minnesota nearly rallied to stun second-seeded Indiana in dramatic fashion, but came up just short, eventually falling to the Hoosiers, 4-2.

“It was an incredible college match. It was a great match to be a part of,” coach Tyler Thomson said. “It’s unfortunate we were on the short end of it, but I’m very proud of our effort because we gave our very best.”

Down 3-0 to start the dual after losing the doubles point and their first two singles matches, it appeared the Gophers first trip to the second round of the conference tournament since 2003 would be short lived.

And with junior Lindsay Risebrough one point away from a straight-set loss at No. 2 singles, it looked as if Minnesota (12-11, 4-6 Big Ten) would surrender quietly to Indiana (20-5, 9-1).

That, however, was anything but the case.

Risebrough, who was well aware that a loss in her match would end the dual, fought off three match points to force an all-deciding third-set.

“I was just saying to myself ‘you can’t lose, we still have a chance,’ ” Risebrough said.

After wins at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, the Gophers found themselves back in contention at 3-2.

As the crowd built around Risebrough’s match, Thomson had little idea of how his team was doing.

Thomson was on the main courts at the Baseline Tennis Center coaching his top two singles players, while leaving his assistants to coach at the courts directly across the street.

“I was kind of clueless as to what happened across the street,” Thomson said.

But even after his work was done on the main courts, Thomson didn’t have the nerves to watch the final points of the day.

He went to his office, called his wife, and started watching that match from across the street, until finally making his way to the far courts to see the last few points of the day.

At that point, Risebrough was well on her way to tying the match, up 5-2 in the third set.

However, the match was stopped at that point after senior Ida Malmberg lost a close match 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 at No. 3 singles in her final collegiate match for the Gophers, ending the dual as the Hoosiers picked up their fourth win of the day.

It wasn’t all a loss for Malmberg, though. Her family made the trip all the way from their home in Sweden to see her play a collegiate tennis match for the first time.

“It didn’t turn out the way I wanted. But I have no regrets,” Malmberg said. “I did what I could, things just didn’t go my way this time. “

Despite losing the deciding match, Thomson said Malmberg, who will be a student-assistant for the team next year, has nothing to be ashamed of.

“I’m proud of her effort,” he said. “She went out in fine fashion.”

Thomson said the Gophers likely won’t be granted an NCAA tournament bid when the selection committee decides on Tuesday, but that his team is among the nation’s best, regardless.

“This last match was a statement to where we’ve come. Indiana is a top-25 team. To come that close to them proves we are one of the best 64 teams in the country, in my opinion.”

Thomson said the way his team responded to adversity this season – the Gophers had three regular contributors sit out with medical redshirts – made this year the most rewarding in his tenure at Minnesota.

“From my perspective, it was the most satisfying season really since I’ve been coaching her personally”, Thomson said.

While Minnesota loses Malmberg and No. 1 singles player Ashley Schellhas to graduation, the deep Gophers believe they can move into the upper echelon of the Big Ten next season.

“I think we’ve made tremendous strides. As a whole, every player was playing their best tennis at the end of the year,” Risebrough said. “(The NCAA tournament) is definitely everyone’s goal for next year.”