Women ride improved play into crucial matches against Indiana, Purdue

The women’s team has lost four of its last five matches, and the men have lost three of four. The men play Indiana and Purdue on the road this weekend.

Charlie Armitz

Motivation comes in odd ways.

Prior to the Gophers women’s tennis team’s match at Penn State last Friday, head coach Tyler Thomson promised the team that he would get his cheeks tattooed with the letter ‘M’ for Minnesota if it won all three doubles matches.

Sure enough, the Gophers swept the doubles, and Thomson donned a new look as he watched the team close out a 5-2 win.

“It was like extra motivation for us,” top doubles player Natallia Pintusava said with a laugh.

Though the tattoos weren’t permanent, his team’s success in doubles was — at least for the weekend.

Minnesota swept the doubles again Sunday against Ohio State before losing the team match 4-3. This time, Thomson went without the face paint.

“You get used to good things quickly,” Pintusava said.

Those are words the team has lived by in 2012 after a strong start — although success has been tough to find lately. The Gophers have lost four of their last five matches, all against conference foes.

The result: a dramatic dip in Minnesota’s standing in the Big Ten. The Gophers won their first two conference matches and were tied for first; now they’re 3-4 and tied for seventh.

Thomson said the team is aiming to finish fourth or fifth in order to receive a favorable seed in the Big Ten tournament April 26-29.

For a fifth-place finish, Thomson said the No. 31 Gophers will likely need to win three of their last four conference matches. To finish fourth, he said they will likely need teams above them in the standings to lose.

Minnesota hosts No. 47 Indiana and No. 34 Purdue this weekend. Given the Gophers’ recent inconsistency, it’s anyone’s guess how they’ll perform, although last weekend was an encouraging step toward the kind of success that helped them open this spring 12-1.

“It was a sense that everybody was ready to fight no matter what,” said Pintusava, who won both of her singles matches over the weekend. “It was just good energy.”

At this point in the season, any kind of energy is good. Thomson said it’s more important to keep his players healthy and fresh than to improve their tennis games.

He had the team practice for just 30 minutes Tuesday before playing ultimate Frisbee — “just to keep it fresh.”

Thomson said singles players Julia Courter and Yuliana Umanets are game-day decisions with undisclosed
injuries.

Men prepare for two more road tests

The No. 40 Gophers men’s tennis team has lost three of its last four matches after winning seven in a row, and a tough Big Ten schedule hasn’t done it any favors.

Minnesota will get a slight reprieve this weekend when it travels to play No. 31 Indiana and No. 74 Purdue.

The Gophers are 1-4 against top-35 opponents and 8-2 against teams outside the top-35.

With a balanced lineup from top to bottom, they have held their ground against weaker opponents but struggled to consistently beat the nation’s top players.

“We’re all trying to make sure we … are maintaining a level of aggressiveness with each ball that we strike so that we’re not playing reactive to our opponents — always playing as aggressive as we can and making our opponent adjust to our game,” head coach Geoff Young said.

Minnesota competed well with then-No. 3 Ohio State last weekend but often found itself reacting to the Buckeyes’ precise and powerful shots rather than attacking, especially in doubles.

The Gophers lost 6-1 to Ohio State, dropping their first home match of the season.

Minnesota is 2-5 on the road in 2012.