Men’s tennis set sights on Big Ten champion Illinois

Aaron Blake

Despite losing several players, including Jorge Duenas, John Svensson, and Tyson Parry, Minnesota’s men’s tennis team looks to rebound even stronger this year.

The Gophers’ high hopes are fueled by continued successful recruiting and healthy returning contributors.

“We return a lot of impact players this year … and we added some really good players too,” coach David Geatz said.

Among those returning are two players plagued by injuries a year ago. Chris Wettengel and Thomas Haug both missed substantial portions of the season with different ailments.

Haug, a native of Switzerland, was visiting his homeland over Christmas when he tore his right meniscus, a ligament in the knee. He received a medical redshirt but returns, in his words, “fully recovered.”

Two of the significant recruits for this year’s squad are Manuel Lievano of Colombia and Texas High School champion Avery Ticer.

Lievano played for North Greenville College in South Carolina a year ago and finished the season ranked first in all of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

His team competed for the NAIA national championship, but was forced to withdraw due to several player suspensions.

“I think it was drinking,” Lievano said in a heavy accent, indicative of the foreign presence on the men’s tennis team. “It was a party school.”

Other players returning to this year’s team are All-Big Ten selection Harsh Mankad, Eric Robertson, and Aleksey Zharinov.

While having the majority of the team back this year, the Gophers did experience several losses from last year’s squad.

“It would be nice to have Jorge Duenas and John Svensson back for another year,” Geatz said.

Duenas formed the 25th-ranked doubles combo with Mankad while Svensson was the top No. 3 singles player in the Big Ten.

Geatz has high hopes for this year’s squad – especially Mankad and Lievano. Of Lievano, Geatz said, “He’s going to be an impact player immediately, not just on the team, but in the Big Ten.”

Geatz said the Gophers are a top 10 team this year, barring injuries, and are aiming for a Big Ten championship. When asked about national title hopes, he said, “If you win the Big Ten championships, you’re good enough to win the NCAA (tournament) this year.”

Standing in the Gophers’ way this year is Illinois, who Geatz calls, “the best team I’ve ever seen in the Big Ten.” Illinois knocked the Gophers out of the Big Ten tournament last year. Geatz is optimistic, though.

“We’re good enough to beat them,” Geatz said. “We’re good enough to win the NCAA (tournament) as well.”

Minnesota begins the 2001-2002 season at the Cal-Berkeley Invitational in Berkeley, Calif., on Sept. 28-30.