U women’s tennis gets NCAA bid, plays Indiana in first round

by Aaron Kirscht

The Gophers women’s tennis team continued its evolution into one of the elite teams in the Big Ten on Tuesday, receiving a second-straight bid to play in the NCAA regional tournament next weekend.
Although they lost a tight match to Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten tournament last Friday, which left them in a fourth-place tie with the Wildcats, the Gophers (11-6, 6-5 in the Big Ten) will meet Indiana in the first round of the NCAAs.
The Region IV tournament will be hosted by Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., on May 9-11. Invitations were extended to Illinois, Marquette, Northwestern, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Wisconsin and the Gophers.
“We’re not over the recovery (from last weekend) yet,” coach Martin Novak said, “but I think it’ll be a lot of fun.
“We have nothing to lose in that match, and we’ll have plenty of time to rest and do a little pondering about what we want to accomplish.”
Indiana (18-8, 11-2) narrowly defeated Minnesota on March 9 on the Gophers’ home court. Minnesota’s doubles troubles were crucial in the 4-3 decision, giving the Hoosiers a one-point head start. As of late, however, the Gophers have recovered, winning the doubles point in three of their last four matches.
Indiana lost 4-1 to Michigan on Sunday in the finals of the Big Ten tournament. The Hoosiers’ lone point came from doubles.
“I think we have a great chance against them,” Novak said. “We just have to get our big people — whoever they’re going to be — to step up and get us some points.
“I only hope we’ll take advantage of the opportunity and get a little revenge and end the season on a stronger note.”
Ignora Nora?
Along with the good news of an NCAA bid came a bit of the bad. Gophers freshman Nora Sauska, who compiled a team-best 23-4 record at No. 1 singles, missed out on the Big Ten Newcomer of the Year award.
Northwestern’s Katherine Nasser claimed the award, which went last season to Minnesota’s Alice Rangsithienchai.
“I’m very disappointed,” Novak said. “I think that when you have that kind of record at No. 1 and you split with the person who gets it, it has a little to do with politics.”
Novak said that Northwestern’s reputation as a conference leader, as well as Rangsithienchai’s win last season, may have influenced the judges.
But he added that the award was Sauska’s to lose. Nasser, who spent most of the season playing at No. 2 singles, got her first shot at No. 1 against Sauska on April 19. Sauska won easily, but Nasser returned the favor last weekend in the first round of the Big Ten tournament.
“It doesn’t reflect less on Nora’s accomplishments,” Novak said. “But it came down to a photo finish, and they thought that (Nasser) got it.
“I think the last impression was important to a lot of the coaches.”
Sauska was still named to the 12-player All-Big Ten team. Novak said Rangsithienchai was “13th on the list” and likely would have made the team had she not lost her final match.
“I think it would have been nice for them to get it,” Novak said, “but I guess we just have to reset our sights and look forward to Indiana.”
Hold, please
The men’s tennis team’s hopes of obtaining a bid to the NCAAs remain in limbo. Although bids were expected to come down on Tuesday, coach David Geatz said that he hadn’t yet heard anything.
But he admitted that could mean bad news is on the way.
“If we’re not in, they’re not going to call every team in the region and let them know,” he said. “But I would be surprised if we didn’t make it.
“We’re going on the assumption that we’re in. But I guess I’ll have to call the NCAA (on Wednesday) to know for sure. Until then, it’s practice as usual.”
The Gophers chances looked slim heading into last weekend’s Big Ten tournament, but their upset of second-seeded Purdue propelled them to a third-place finish in the conference. The top four teams in the conference are typically granted invitations, but that decision is not made on standings alone.
As the last team to make the cut last season, the Gophers won the region and advanced to the Sweet 16.