Men’s tennis on a roll wtih six wins in last seven matches

by Jabari Ritchie

Heading into the final month of the regular season, Minnesota’s men’s tennis team finds itself ranked No. 17 in the nation with six wins in its last seven matches.

But with all of their preseason goals still in reach, the streaking Gophers (10-4, 3-1 Big Ten) are far from satisfied.

“We want to be top ten in the country, we want to win the Big Ten championship and we want to get really deep in the NCAA tournament to see if we have a chance to win the thing,” Minnesota coach David Geatz said Friday, after his team stomped Michigan State 7-0 with six straight sets singles victories.

“If we run the table and win the rest of our matches, we’re going to be in the top ten, and I think we’ve won enough matches that there’s no way we won’t get in the NCAA tournament.”

Despite a rough weekend in mid-February, when the Gophers went 0-2 without junior Harsh Mankad ñ who is ranked No. 1 in the nation ñ Minnesota has had good showings all season.

After opening the year with a 4-3 win over fourth-ranked Notre Dame on Jan. 25, the Gophers went on a four-game winning streak before losing to Wake Forest and Virginia Commonwealth without Mankad.

“We won the first four matches, then we went to North Carolina and lost three tough matches to Wake Forest, VCU and Ohio State,” said freshman Avery Ticer, who has gone 19-10 this year. “We’ve been playing really well ever since.”

Minnesota, which has six Big Ten matches to play before the conference tournament from April 25-28, has swept six matches ñ three of the past four ñ and defeated two top 20 teams.

The Gophers, who trail Northwestern, third-ranked Illinois and the Buckeyes in the conference standings, still have an opportunity to win their first Big Ten title since claiming four straight from 1992-1995.

“I think we are (playing the best tennis of the season), but we’ve still got to put things together with doubles and certain other things,” said Mankad, who has a 19-3 singles record this year. “We’re playing well and hopefully we can continue playing like this.”

Minnesota has benefited from a deep roster as eight different players have competed in the top six singles spots and none of the Gophers have losing records.

Minnesota’s top three players ñ Mankad, junior captain Thomas Haug and sophomore Aleksey Zharinov ñ have all been nationally ranked.

“We’ve always had a lot of good wins at one, two and three and now our four, five and six guys have stepped up,” said Haug, who has a 23-7 record. “We also have three other guys who can step in and play four, five and six. The team’s solid throughout the lineup, which is really good.”

While the Gophers depth has led to success, missed matches by their top player had an opposite impact.

Mankad, who competes with the Indian Davis Cup team, has missed five matches since the spring season began.

“It’s tough,” said Geatz. “It’s not like it just affects his match. It affects six matches. He’s gone, plus everybody else in the lineup has to play someone a little bit tougherÖ The last two times he’s missed matches we’ve lost them both.”

ï Minnesota defeated 54th-ranked Michigan State 7-0 at the Northwest Athletic Club on Friday.

The Gophers earned the doubles point by winning No. 1 and No. 3 doubles and did not lose a set in singles.

“We played well for sure, but we were expecting to get a good performance in,” Mankad said. “I’m happy with the way things went and we’ve got to come out like this everyday against everybody.”

Jabari Ritchie covers tennis and
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