U tennis team not fazed by up and down season

Michael Rand

Forget about Valley Fair’s new attraction, “The Wild Thing.” The Gophers men’s tennis team has been the biggest roller coaster ride in Minnesota this season.
The Gophers, favored to five-peat as Big Ten champions this season, began their quest by losing eight of 10 nonconference matches. But just when it looked like Minnesota might be finished, the team rebounded with an 8-2 Big Ten record and the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.
Back in the role of the favorite, the Gophers floundered in the Big Ten tournament. They nearly lost in the first round before getting knocked out in the semifinals. Left for dead once again, Minnesota, the lowest seed in the Region IV Tournament, somehow managed to win the tournament and advance to the NCAA tournament in Athens, Ga.
When asked to sum up the season, senior Erik Donley simply said: “Whatever you thought was going to happen — it didn’t happen.”
The Gophers are hoping that trend continues Saturday, when they face heavily favored Mississippi in the first round of the 16-team national tournament.
Minnesota winning the tournament may seem like a long shot, but coach David Geatz has learned not to take anything for granted this season.
“We’re really happy to be at nationals,” Geatz said. “And now that we’re there, we’re only four wins away from being national champs. We think we can play with anybody.”
The Gophers, who left for Georgia on Wednesday afternoon, didn’t have a team practice in Minnesota before they departed. Part of it was the weather, Geatz said, and the other part was a need for rest.
“Not being able to practice doesn’t bother me. Sometimes it’s more of a hindrance to come back from a trip and try to practice,” he said. “We need the rest more than we need to play matches.”
As for facing the Bulldogs, the No. 3 team in the country, Geatz said he doesn’t know much about them.
He said he was going to contact some coaches he knows in the Southeastern Conference in order to put together a scouting report.
Minnesota, 14-11, has the most losses of any team in the tournament. But because the Gophers have played close matches against such top 10 teams as Stanford, Mississippi State and Kansas, intimidation won’t be a factor, Geatz added.
“They’re not in awe of any team,” he said of his players. “Sometimes (the freshmen) are too young to be afraid.”
Minnesota could face No. 1 UCLA in the semifinals if it survives the first two rounds of the tournament. The Bruins are undefeated this season.