Men, women await NCAA fate after second-round losses

Both teams are expected to make the NCAA tournament despite disappointments at the Big Ten tournament. The men lost to Indiana and the women lost to Illinois.

by Charlie Armitz

It takes very little to separate Indiana and Minnesota’s men’s tennis teams these days.

Prior to last weekend, the Gophers had gotten the better of the Hoosiers in recent matches — but Friday in the Big Ten tournament’s second round, Indiana struck back.

The Hoosiers knocked the Gophers out of the tournament with a 4-3 comeback win. It was Minnesota’s first loss since April 8 and its first loss to Indiana since April 2011.

“The match could have gone either way. It was extremely close,” head coach Geoff Young said. “At times [it] looked like we had it, but it just slipped away at the end.”

 The higher-seeded Gophers led 3-2 when second singles player Leandro Toledo and fourth singles player Julian Dehn lost in decisive third sets.

Earlier this month, it was Minnesota that recovered from a deficit — 3-1 — to upset the higher-ranked Hoosiers. That win helped the Gophers receive a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament while watching Indiana take on Iowa in the first round.

But the Hoosiers cruised past Iowa and started strong against the Gophers, taking a 2-0 lead. The teams traded blows the rest of the way.

“It’s the case of two identically even teams,” Young said. “Two even teams that, if they played 20 times, each team’s going to win 10.”

Those kinds of odds would suit the Gophers well at the NCAA tournament, which begins in two weeks and presents tougher competition from West Coast teams.

Last year, Minnesota fell 4-3 to Fresno State in the opening round of the NCAAs after a run to the Big Ten tournament final.

The Gophers are likely to make the tournament again this year, although three nonconference losses to top-40 opponents won’t help their case.

“I think that our team is very dangerous,” Young said. “Even [against] top teams in the top 20, I feel like we can give ourselves a chance to win.

“I would just love another chance.”

Women seek rest after second-round exit

The Gophers women’s tennis team’s Big Ten season ended the way it started — with a reminder that while Minnesota has made strides since its disappointing 2011 season, it’s still far from being an elite team.

Minnesota fell 4-0 to third-seeded Illinois in the second round of the Big Ten tournament Friday after rallying for a 4-2 win against 11th-seeded Iowa the previous day.

The Gophers have been nationally ranked for most of the season, but they are 0-5 against top-25 teams, with just four wins in 32 individual matches.

Head coach Tyler Thomson attributed the loss to Illinois, which is ranked 20th nationally, to fatigue.

“We really didn’t compete very well against Illinois,” Thomson said. “You could see that the accumulation of the previous day’s match with injuries was really taking a toll on people.”

No. 6 seed Minnesota needed four hours to defeat Iowa on Thursday after it lost the doubles point. The Hawkeyes gave the Gophers a much tougher test than they did a week ago in Minnesota’s 6-1 win at the Baseline Tennis Center.

With the match even at 2-2, freshman Tereza Brichacova and junior Alexa Palen won three-set matches for the Gophers. Minnesota’s other two freshmen — Julia Courter and Aria Lambert — had already won in straight sets.

Palen, who has battled a painful injury since mid-April, did not play in singles Friday.

“She pretty much used everything in the tank [against Iowa],” Thomson said.

The Gophers didn’t come close to winning a match against the Illini, who have been on a roll since the start of the Big Ten season.

Illinois won 81 of the 109 games played Friday and didn’t drop a set.

Minnesota will have two weeks to rest and heal before the NCAA tournament May 17-28 in Athens, Ga.

The Gophers, who were ranked No. 34 nationally heading into the Big Ten tournament, are likely to receive one of the middle seeds in their quarter of the 64-team NCAA field. It would be their first NCAA tournament bid since 2003.

“I really have a tremendous amount of optimism and confidence about what our team can do with some rest and with a good week of focused practice,” Thomson. “We’re really just eager to have an opportunity.”