It’s not often that a team simply shrugs off two important road losses.
But the No. 47 Gophers men’s tennis team, after losing at Northwestern and Illinois last weekend, is attempting to do just that in preparation for this weekend’s home matches against Penn State and Ohio State.
Head coach Geoff Young said he thinks the team is playing well and with confidence despite the losses, which ended a seven-match winning streak. Minnesota is 8-5 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten.
The road doesn’t get any easier: Ohio State is ranked third in the nation and has won its last 84 Big Ten matches.
“They’re as good as any other team in the country,” Young said. “If you go off results, they’re a notch above most of our other opponents.”
The Buckeyes (23-2, 4-0 Big Ten) have won 25 of their last 27 individual matches since losing at then-No. 4 Georgia on March 21.
They have won 25 individual matches in a row against the Gophers, including 11 wins last season.
Minnesota plays the unranked Nittany Lions on Friday and the Buckeyes on Sunday. But Young said the outcome of Friday’s match, which heavily favors the Gophers, shouldn’t affect the team’s much-anticipated duel with Ohio State.
“If we have to rely on beating other teams in order to be confident, then we have bigger problems,” Young said. “Penn State has good players too. We’re going to go out there and … stick to the identity of our own games and see what happens.”
While the Gophers have relied on their depth for most of the season, they have competed better at the top of the singles lineup in recent matches.
In Sunday's 4-2 loss at Illinois, No. 80 Leandro Toledo upset the Illini’s No. 31 Roy Kalmanovich, winning the third set 6-0.
A week earlier, the Gophers’ top singles player Rok Bonin nearly took down No. 10 Evan King of Michigan, falling in a third-set tiebreaker.
Ohio State has singles players ranked at Nos. 5, 12, 54, 69 and 110 in the nation. It also has the nation’s top doubles team in Blaz Rola and Chase Buchanan.
Rola, the Buckeyes’ No. 1 singles player, also posts a No. 716 ranking on the men’s professional circuit. Second-singles player Buchanan, who competed at the 2009 U.S. Open, is ranked No. 864.
Young said his players have been able to compete with the nation’s best by maintaining a high level of aggressiveness. To upset the Buckeyes, they’ll need that and a whole lot more.
Women seek mental toughness at PSU, OSU
Mental toughness is a critical element in tennis. For the No. 33 Gophers women’s tennis team, it’s been lacking amid a three-match losing streak.
Each of Minnesota’s three losses came against top-25 opponents. This weekend, it gets a slight break as it travels to face No. 47 Penn State on Friday and unranked Ohio State on Sunday.
For the Gophers (12-4, 2-3 Big Ten) to snap the streak, head coach Tyler Thomson said they will need to refocus and hold itself to a higher standard.
“At this point in the season, tennis and the way that we’re hitting the ball becomes kind of secondary,” Thomson said. “It’s more about the mindset, taking the initiative, being proactive.”
Thomson said he wasn’t happy with the team’s mindset during last Sunday’s 6-1 loss to then-No. 21 Illinois.
“Our feet were like they were in quicksand,” Thomson said. “We were spectators more than we were participants. There has to be an urgency to act, and in Sunday’s match, there wasn’t.”
As a team, the Gophers regressed Sunday from their 5-2 loss to Northwestern last Friday, which was closely contested until the last point. Alexa Palen, who has lost three straight singles matches after starting the season 12-0, said fatigue may be a factor in the team’s struggles.
“Maybe in the middle of the season people are a little bit tired, but I think we have to get back to that mentality of just wanting it,” Palen said. “We all have it, but we just need to make sure we bring it out every single match.”
The Nittany Lions and Buckeyes have combined to win just two of their last eight matches.
Ohio State’s win against unranked Iowa last Sunday ended a seven-match losing streak. The Buckeyes are 6-12 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten.
The Gophers haven’t lost to a ranked team all year, and they are 12-0 against teams outside the top-30.
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