Tennis coaches battle challenges of brutal winter

Bad weather has forced Minnesota’s tennis teams to play indoors.

Dane Mizutani

Minnesota saw what looks to be the last snowfall of a brutal winter last week.

The prolonged winter can’t end soon enough for the Gophers men’s and women’s tennis coaches.

Though the weather has been an inconvenience to students on campus, the tennis teams might have been more impacted.

“It’s important to get outside because the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament are both played outside,” first-year women’s head coach Chuck Merzbacher said.

Neither the men’s nor the women’s squad has practiced outside this season as mounds of snow still sit on the courts at Baseline Tennis Center.

Minnesota head men’s coach Geoff Young said he’d guess there’s a “zero percent chance” this weekend’s home matches against Northwestern and Illinois will be played outside.

Minnesota is scheduled to play outside matches the rest of the season, but a weather rule for collegiate tennis says the projected forecast for matches has to be at least 50 degrees for two hours of the match and a 20-mile-per-hour wind gust cannot be sustained in the match.

“It’s been different this year because normally we would be outside at least on some days at this point,” Young said. “It really is an unfortunate thing for us because all of our matches are scheduled outside.”

Young said playing tennis changes a lot more outside than inside because the elements inside are perfect. He said wind slows the matches down and makes points harder to score.

Young said it’s frustrating as a coach to prepare indoors when most of the season’s matches will take place outdoors.

Still, he said the team tries not to focus too much on that in practice.

“I’d say the guys never think about it because they probably prefer playing indoors,” Young said. “It can be really unpleasant playing outdoors this time of the year because it’s so cold.”

Merzbacher, a graduate of Minnesota, is familiar with the weather patterns in the Midwest, but he said the long winter has become a nuisance this season.

He said he’s confident in his players’ abilities to adapt to the outside elements once the weather starts to improve, though.

“I feel like our players all have the mental toughness and ability to react and respond well to the shift outside,” Merzbacher said.

The women will travel to Northwestern and Illinois this weekend, where temperatures are expected to be in the 50s with winds of 5 to 15 mph.

“We’re not scared of anybody out there,” Merzbacher said. “We go out there and fight.”

Merzbacher said senior Alexa Palen (mononucleosis) may play singles this weekend after she competed in doubles matches over spring break. He added that sophomore Julia Courter (wrist) may return to the lineup this weekend as well.