Lobos to be a test for Minnesota in first round of NCAA tournament

The Minnesota menâÄôs tennis team will get the chance to soak up some Southern California sun Friday when they face New Mexico at 2 p.m. PST in the first round of the NCAA menâÄôs tennis tournament at the University of Southern California. It will be the 20th overall NCAA tournament appearance for the school and its 14th in the past 16 seasons. The Gophers were one of six Big Ten teams to earn a spot in the NCAA field of 64 after drawing an at-large bid and the first round matchup against the Lobos. Minnesota (18-7) enters the NCAA tournament coming off a disappointing showing at the Big Ten tournament, losing its first match in an upset to lower-seeded Indiana. âÄú(Indiana) just played more aggressive than us,âÄù Gophers coach Geoff Young said. Minnesota defeated the Hoosiers 6-1 earlier this season, but lost 1-4 the second time around after Indiana won the doubles point to start the match and followed that up by taking the No. 1 singles match next. Young says the team learned a good lesson from the loss, though. âÄúWe learned that we need to respect every team no matter if theyâÄôre ranked above us or below us,âÄù Gophers junior Dino Bilankov said. Bilankov had the only point for Minnesota at the No. 4 singles match in that loss to the Hoosiers and is entering the NCAA tournament playing some of his best tennis. He has won four consecutive matches along with 10 of his last 12. The pairing against New Mexico (20-5) will put Minnesota in a similar situation as the Big Ten tournament. The Gophers are favored once again, entering the tournament ranked 33rd in the nation while the Lobos are ranked 41st. But this time, Young says, they wonâÄôt be overlooking anyone. âÄúTheyâÄôre very similar to Indiana,âÄù Young said. âÄúThey compete hard and they have gritty players and they fight hard; weâÄôll have our hands full.âÄù Ishay Hadash âÄì ranked 60th in the nation in singles competition âÄì will likely draw New MexicoâÄôs Johnny Parkes in the No. 1 singles match for Minnesota. Parkes is ranked 77th in the nation and is the Mountain West ConferenceâÄôs Player of the Year. HadashâÄôs matchup against Parkes could go a long way in determining the outcome of the match. âÄú(New Mexico is) pretty strong at the top of their lineup so if we can get the doubles point and win at some spots at the top of the lineup it would be good for us,âÄù Young said. This will be the ninth meeting between the Gophers and Lobos all-time. The teams last met in 2007, with New Mexico winning 5-2 in Albuquerque, NM. Minnesota was ranked No. 18 in the nation at that time, but fell on the road to the underdog Lobos after they swept the doubles point from the Gophers and then won all but the No. 1 and No. 2 singles matches. Bilankov knows that a stronger performance will be needed this time around. âÄúWeâÄôve had great guys playing inconsistent so we need to come together and try to be a team again where everyoneâÄôs playing well,âÄù Bilankov said. USC and UC-Santa Barbara are the other two teams playing in the Gophers regional. The winner between Minnesota and New Mexico will face that winner Saturday for a spot in the NCAA finals in College Station, Texas.