Gophers end season in first round of the NCAA Tournament

The Gophers lost to the University of San Diego 4-1.

Senior Marino Alpeza competes in his singles match on Friday, March 22 at the Baseline Tennis Center. 

Image by Courtney Deutz

Senior Marino Alpeza competes in his singles match on Friday, March 22 at the Baseline Tennis Center. 

by David Mullen

It was uncertain how far the Gophers men’s tennis team would go this year after losing their top two players last season.

Despite the losses, the Gophers qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year, competing against the University of San Diego. Although Minnesota (16-10, 4-7) put forth a strong effort, the Toreros were too much to handle as they won 4-1, eliminating the Gophers from the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m incredibly proud of the group of guys we had this year,” senior Josip Krstanovic said. “We had our ups and downs as expected, but if you look at the season overall and what we achieved, it was really good.”

The Gophers have been eliminated in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in two of the past three years, but last year they advanced all the way to the Sweet Sixteen.

The lone point for the Gophers this time around came from sophomore Vlad Lobak in the No. 5 singles spot, who sailed to a two-set victory: 6-4, 6-4. Lobak finished the year 22-7 and improved throughout the season.

“He’s a very good player who, throughout the year, got better and better at playing under pressure and going for his shots,” head coach Geoff Young said. “The results on paper … were that he racked up a lot of wins, and that’s what we want, but I’m more concerned with his level of play and truly maximizing his potential.”

As the match got underway with doubles, the Toreros overmatched Minnesota and got the point as they breezed through the No. 1 doubles spot 6-2 and won 6-3 at the No. 2 spot.

In singles, San Diego gained its second point of the match at No. 6 singles when freshman Sebastian Vile fell in his NCAA Tournament debut 6-4, 6-3.

Lobak’s victory looked to sway the momentum in favor of the Gophers, but San Diego took hold and won the final two matches.

Senior Marino Alpeza fell in three sets in the No. 3 role after fighting back down early in the match: 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Krstanovic lost his match in the No. 1 spot to San Diego’s Gui Osorio: 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-1. 

“I thought we were missing a little bit more than we were used to,” Young said. “We weren’t hitting our aggressive balls that we normally get to.”

Even though the Gophers’ four seniors ended their collegiate careers on a loss, Young said the team has shown growth over time. 

“Their freshman year, we did not have a very good season,” Young said. “For the next three years to make the NCAA Tournament each year just speaks about their motivation … and that’s their legacy, how much they figured out college tennis and how much they improved.”

Although the loss of the seniors is a hit on the team, Krstanovic is not worried about the future of the program.

“They have a lot of guys that can really lead and maybe be even better than us when they are seniors, there is a lot of good potential,” Krstanovic said.