Sometime over the last two months - between road trips to Arizona, Texas, Idaho and California - the Minnesota men's tennis team went from a squad looking to make its 14th NCAA tournament appearance in 15 years, to a team just trying to float above water.
The Gophers, now 2-12 after dropping an intense, emotionally charged Big Ten dual (4-3 to No. 38 Indiana on Saturday at Baseline Tennis Center) are still trying to solve the problems that have plagued them all season.
Minnesota has been haunted by its inability to win the doubles point all season. Saturday, losing the doubles point to the Hoosiers was the difference between winning and losing the dual for the Gophers. Another season-long struggle for coach Geoff Young's team has been closing out close matches. Minnesota won four first sets in singles action but ended up dropping three matches in three sets.
"I thought (Saturday) we played too tentative. We had our chances and didn't place aggressive enough when we had our chances," Young said. "It will come with experience; it's part of it."
One reason for Minnesota's inability to find the win column during the first seven weeks of the spring season likely comes from a tough schedule. The Gophers, who started the season ranked No. 40 in early February, have played 10 duals against teams ranked in the top 60 nationally; including No. 2 Ohio State, No. 28 TCU and No. 35 Boise State.
It's not any easy schedule for any team, particularly an inexperienced squad struggling to fill a lineup that was senior-clad a season ago.
Young has attempted to replace maroon and gold staples Nich Edlefsen, D.J. Geatz, Mikey Kantar, Andres Osorio and Sion Wilkins with his first recruiting class.
Freshman Sebastian Gallego, a native of Medellin, Colombia, played at the No. 2 singles position on Saturday, losing 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Fellow freshman Tobias Wernet from Mainz, Germany is back in the lineup after sitting out the team's first 10 duals do to NCAA rules.
Wernet picked up his first victory of the spring season with a 5-7, 7-6, 6-4 win over Indiana's Dara McLoughlin at No. 3 singles.
Senior Raol Schwark, who won 7-6, 7-5 at No. 1 singles on Saturday, said it is always hard to replace the caliber of players the Gophers lost from last year's team.
"Obviously, it's almost impossible," Schwark said. "We had, like, seven seniors and they played singles and doubles."
Despite being 0-2 in conference and 10 games below .500, Young said he wants his team to continue to compete, in the hope that they will play their best tennis during the final month of the season.
"We're a young team and we're battling OK. We're competing pretty well. We need to keep competing and learn and get better so that we are peaking by the end of the season."
Women drop pair on the road
The Minnesota women's tennis team is now 0-3 in Big Ten play after losing a pair of conference duals this weekend at Ohio State and Indiana.
A power outage at Varsity Tennis Center in Columbus, Ohio delayed the Gophers meeting with the No. 31 ranked Buckeyes Saturday by nearly seven and a half hours.
When power did return to the arena, OSU moved quickly, beating the No. 49 ranked Gophers 6-1.
Minnesota was far more competitive Sunday against the Hoosiers, but also lost by a score of 6-1.
Coach Tyler Thomson said he was pleased his team was more competitive on day two of its road trip, but that the Gophers need to figure out how to close matches.
"We have to find a way to get over the hump and win some big points," Thomson said.
The bright spot for Minnesota this weekend was clearly sophomore Tijana Koprivica, who won both of her matches at No. 4 singles.
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