Gophers handle Spartans, back in Big Ten race

by Tyler Rushmeyer

The Minnesota women’s tennis team continued to dig itself out of an early conference hole on Saturday, picking up its second consecutive Big Ten victory and keeping its NCAA tournament hopes alive in the process.

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when: 11 a.m. Saturday
where: Evanston, Ill.

With 10th-ranked Northwestern lurking just five days ahead, the 5-2 triumph over unranked Michigan State at the Baseline Tennis Center moves the Gophers (9-8 overall, 2-4 Big Ten) back above .500 and adds to the team’s momentum heading into Saturday’s showdown.

Coach Tyler Thomson said the Gophers took care of a beatable opponent in an efficient manner.

“We did what we needed to do today,” he said. “I felt like we were in control throughout the day. It’s a real important step forward for us.”

Minnesota never trailed in Saturday’s match, as it quickly jumped out 1-0 after taking the first two doubles matches. It was the fourth time the Gophers captured the doubles point in their six conference matches, a positive trend bucking last year’s results.

Freshman Tijana Koprivica, who triumphed in both her singles and doubles matches to give her four consecutive overall victories, said the team’s intensity was there right from the start.

“We stressed coming out ready to go all week in practice,” she said. “We needed to be focused from the start, grab the doubles point, and build on that throughout the match.”

Minnesota wasted no time in adding to its lead following doubles play, taking the first four singles matches to build its biggest advantage of the afternoon at 5-0 before dropping the last two matches.

Junior Lindsay Risebrough, who finished with a perfect 2-0 record in combined play, said the first two singles matches, which ended in convincing straight set victories for the Gophers, gave the rest of the team confidence for the remainder of singles play.

“I think taking those matches so quickly got everyone else fired up,” she said. “The whole team played with a lot of energy and had a lot of fun throughout the match today.”

With the victory over the Spartans (11-7 overall, 1-4 Big Ten), Minnesota has already matched last year’s conference win total with four regular season matches remaining before the Big Ten Championships.

Koprivica said the confidence is returning to a team that began the conference season with four consecutive losses, two of them at 4-3 deficits.

“Losing those tight matches early on I think was tough for the team’s morale,” she said. “This win helps us in building it back up.”

Thomson said the feeling following Saturday’s match was much better than the one at the conclusion of last weekend’s play, where his team escaped with a narrow 4-3 road victory over Penn State.

“We made much better decisions today and really implemented what we’ve been working on in practice,” he said. “I saw a lot of good intensity, aggressiveness and movement. We definitely feel good about this win.”