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With mental game in mind, Gophers play host to pair of Michigan teams

You don’t have to look very hard to see that interim head coach David Wheaton has made an impact on Minnesota’s men’s tennis team.

First, there’s the obvious: All players now wear the same maroon shirts and white shorts at practice.

Second, in the month since he was named interim head coach on March 2, Wheaton appears to have transformed the team’s doubles play. The team was 1-6 in doubles in dual matches before he showed up, and it’s now 2-0 under him.

But perhaps his biggest impact isn’t quite as apparent – refining the team’s mental game.

“We’re working on the mental aspect a lot and staying composed no matter what,” Wheaton said. “We want to make sure that one bad point doesn’t turn into three.”

While such theories are often expressed about the game of tennis, the Gophers seems to have taken it to heart so far.

Minnesota (3-8, 1-1 Big Ten) has won 10 of 14 possible points under Wheaton, and the team’s No. 1 doubles tandem of Avery Ticer and Adrien Debreyne pulled a major upset of the No. 1 doubles team from Ohio State.

And that 9-7 upset win put the spotlight on the team’s changing attitude and new aggressive, dictate-the-match philosophy Wheaton has stressed.

“Our doubles played great,” interim assistant coach John Wheaton said. “Ohio State is one of the best teams in the country, and to play them so close says a lot about what we can do.”

The mindset change has been noticeable in practice, too, with David Wheaton stressing composure even when there’s nobody else around.

“We’re trying to teach them how to play like some of the top professional teams do,” he said. “They need to impose themselves on the opponent and really have a presence on the court.”

Sophomore D.J. Geatz, who is 2-0 in singles and doubles since returning to the team in dual play this spring, encapsulated that newfound attitude.

“We can beat anyone on our day,” Geatz said. “But we don’t just want to beat them, we want to go in and send a message to the rest of the Big Ten that we’re for real.”

The team will have a chance to do that this weekend in home duals against Michigan (10-6, 3-0) on Friday and Michigan State (10-7, 3-1) on Sunday.

And, not surprisingly, David Wheaton said the way his team mentally controls its matches will be vital to winning.

“We need to dictate the outcome of points and not rely on them to make mistakes,” David Wheaton said. “If we’re aggressive, we can generate short balls, and then we can dictate the outcome of points.”

Women head to Mich.

The Gophers women play at Michigan State at 10 a.m. Saturday and at Michigan at 11 a.m. Sunday.

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