Heading into Sunday’s match against Northwestern, the Minnesota women’s tennis team was on the fast track in Big Ten play.
The Gophers 3-0 start in the conference had been due in large part to 3-0 starts by the doubles team of junior Nora Sauska and freshman Jen Howard, and seniors Jana Hrdinova and Sitinee Rangsithienchai, as well as junior Kim Simonsen in singles.
On Sunday, all those records were shattered.
The Gophers ran into 23rd-ranked Northwestern, losing 6-1 to the Wildcats at the 98th Street Racquet Club in Bloomington.
The loss not only snapped their 3-0 start in the Big Ten, but their six-match winning streak overall.
Minnesota (10-4 overall) and the Wildcats are now both 3-1 in the conference, in a three-way tie for second place in the conference behind 5-0 Ohio State.
“We had a chance and we fought well,” Gophers coach Martin Novak said. “Obviously I’m disappointed we lost, but they just took it to us.”
Northwestern (9-4) took it to Minnesota early and often in doubles.
Simonsen and Hrdinova fell behind 6-3 at No. 1 doubles. They fought back to 7-6, but lost 8-6. At No. 2, Tarah Elkins and Rangsithienchai fell behind 7-3, before making a stirring comeback. But they lost to Colleen Cheng and Lia Jackson, 9-8, 7-5 in the tie breaker, giving the Wildcats the doubles point.
“We were making some errors on some basic shots,” Novak said. “We had trouble with our serves and double-faulted a lot, and you can’t have that.”
After the stirring comeback in doubles, however, things fell apart quickly for Minnesota in singles.
Hrdinova struggled in her match and lost quickly to Jennifer Lutgert, 6-1, 6-0. Jen Howard quickly fell to Jackson, 6-3, 6-0, and the Gophers were already down 3-0 for the match.
Sauska won her sixth straight match at No. 1, 6-4, 6-2 over Katherine Nasser, but Elkins and Simonsen both lost to close out the match.
Although the match was technically over, Rangsithienchai ended up losing her match as well. She had won eight consecutive matches, and Simonsen had won her last seven.
Despite the loss, the Gophers were encouraged by their ability to come back and make things interesting in doubles, which they frequently struggled with last season.
“Things have clicked better this year,” Simonsen said. “We know we can win doubles this year. There’s better chemistry and more enjoyment in playing.”
The Gophers will need a better showing in singles this weekend at Iowa and Wisconsin if they want to get back in the win column.
“I think it’s important for us to come back strong and confident,” Simonsen said. “It’s another day and a chance for us to start over.”
After Sunday’s match, now might be a good time for the Gophers to start over, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the bar has been lowered.
“We’re just going to recharge our batteries and come back,” Novak said. “This team is very resilient, and tomorrow we’ll be all right.”