Healthy for the first time in recent memory, Gophers are off to a 3-0 start this season

A twisted ankle. A bum knee. A sore shoulder. It’s as if the Minnesota women’s tennis team has been cursed with injuries in recent years.

When is the last time Gophers head coach Tyler Thomson can remember having a healthy team at the start of the spring dual season?

“I can’t,” he said. “I feel like we’ve had an incredible string of bad luck. So many of our injuries are really unexplainable, really freak injuries – slight roles of the ankle, slipping on ice, things like that. It’s been very frustrating.”

Don’t look now, but Minnesota (3-0 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) is relatively injury-free – junior Mariana Spilca and freshman Ronni Saxon are mending injuries – as they carry a three-match winning streak into duals at No. 17 North Carolina on Saturday and at No. 37 N.C. State on Sunday.

“I always say to my wife that I want every match that we play I want, as a coach, to have the opportunity to put the very best team we have on the court.

“And we still don’t have that. We’re as close as we’ve ever been,” Thomson said.

With a deep lineup that includes freshman standout Alessandra Ferrazzi, who will play No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles this weekend, and carrying the momentum associated with nearly upsetting No. 25 Indiana in the Big Ten tournament last April, the Gophers are striving for a top-two finish in the Big Ten and an NCAA tournament berth.

“We’ve got a lot of people right now who are capable of playing in our starting lineup,” Thomson said. “Coming up with doubles combinations is challenging right now.”

Senior Danielle Mousseau agrees with her coach, saying that this year’s roster top to bottom is the most talented she’s been a part of during her four-year tenure.

“I think if we all play to the best of our abilities (the NCAA tournament) is possible. I think this year the Big Ten is wide open,” she said.

Men host pair of duals

The Minnesota men’s tennis team will officially start its 2008 spring season this weekend with a pair of duals at the Baseline Tennis Center.

Gophers’ coach Geoff Young’s former team, Denver, will challenge Minnesota at 6 p.m. today. The Gophers will also face Middle Tennessee State at 9 a.m. Sunday.

For a young team featuring four underclassmen, many of whom are playing their first collegiate dual matches, Young said he expects both matches to be close.

In Young’s first season as coach, veteran players Mikey Kantar and Sion Wilkins – staples of the David Geatz era of Minnesota tennis – helped lead the Gophers to an NCAA tournament appearance.

In order to make a tournament appearance this season, Young said this team needs to consistently compete hard.

“Last year was a very talented team; this year we are probably not as talented, but we hope to make up for that in the way we compete,” he said.

Noteworthy

The NCAA Initial Eligibility Center has ordered that freshman Tobias Wernet must sit out the first nine matches of the spring season before becoming eligible to compete in dual action.

“We’re all anxious to get him in the lineup because he is an impact player,” Young said.