Minnesota falls twice in final weekend

The Gophers also lost two matches on the men’s side over the weekend.

Julia Courter plays against Illinois Friday afternoon at Baseline Tennis Center. Minnesota lost to Illinois 4-3.

Lisa Persson

Julia Courter plays against Illinois Friday afternoon at Baseline Tennis Center. Minnesota lost to Illinois 4-3.

Jace Frederick

It wasn’t exactly the weekend that the Gophers women’s tennis team was hoping for to wrap up the regular season.

No. 59 Minnesota (16-8, 6-5) lost 4-3 to No. 43 Illinois on Friday night before losing 7-0 to No. 13 Northwestern on Sunday afternoon.

But the Gophers were far from discouraged, despite the sweep. Minnesota players held their heads high Sunday as they look ahead to next week’s Big Ten tournament.

“We’re going into the Big Ten tournament really positively and ready to battle,” junior Julia Courter said. “I feel like everyone is in a great place with tennis. And we have a mindset where we’re ready to go … and do big things there.”

Gophers head coach Chuck Merzbacher said even though the team would have liked to win both matches over the weekend, the close scores in the individual matches were encouraging.

“We’re fighting hard, and we’re playing well,” he said. “We just don’t go away.”

Minnesota senior Natallia Pintusava said the matches this weekend, both against higher-ranked opponents, provided a good mental experience in preparation for next weekend.

“I mean, losing is never fun,” she said, “[but] we all played tough.”

Minnesota finished the regular season with six Big Ten victories — the highest mark achieved since the 2003 season. Merzbacher said this team has established a culture in which every player believes in themself on the court.

That mental toughness and togetherness pushed the team to results not seen in the program for more than a decade. Now, the Gophers are hoping it translates to postseason success — starting with the Big Ten tournament next weekend in Evanston, Ill.

“We’re not going to go just show up,” Merzbacher said. “We really want to go there and stay.”

Minnesota played Sunday without junior Tereza Brichacova, who traditionally fills the No. 1 singles slot. She missed the match with a wrist injury.

Merzbacher said he held Brichacova out in hopes of getting her rested for the Big Ten tournament.

“We’re hoping that some rest will give her a chance to play,” he said. “I’m counting on her to be there.”

Men’s team loses two matches

Minnesota’s men’s tennis team (11-12, 5-6) likely has some work to do at the Big Ten tournament if it wants to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

No. 51 Minnesota lost both its matches on the road this weekend, falling 5-1 to No. 10 Illinois on Friday and 7-0 to No. 35 Northwestern on Sunday.

Leandro Toledo’s individual NCAA tournament hopes also took a bit of a hit over the weekend. Toledo, the 39th-ranked player in the NCAA rankings, lost two matches at the No. 1 singles position.

Toledo likely needs to finish in the top 50 of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s rankings to qualify for the postseason.