The Gophers women’s tennis team has faced its fair share of difficult tests following a 12-1 start, and it hasn’t always fared well.
Three losses to top-25 teams dropped Minnesota out of contention for a Big Ten title early, but the Gophers weathered the storm and elevated their performance in the regular season’s final weeks.
This weekend, the stakes will be raised as Minnesota competes at the Big Ten championships in Columbus, Ohio.
The sixth-seeded Gophers play Iowa — a team they beat 6-1 last Sunday — in Thursday’s first round.
The 11th-seeded Hawkeyes posted a 2-9 conference record, but they played the Gophers without second singles player Shelby Talcott.
Minnesota (5-6 Big Ten) competed against Iowa with Alexa Palen out of the singles lineup. Palen has been battling a painful injury since mid-April. Doron Muravnik has taken on the No. 2 singles role and competed well, while Tereza Brichacova has moved into the third singles spot and won two matches.
Two players in the bottom half of the singles lineup, Julia Courter and Yuliana Umanets, are also recovering from injuries.
Head coach Tyler Thomson said Palen and Courter are questionable for Thursday’s match, and Umanets won’t be able to compete at 100 percent health.
“I honestly don’t know who’s going to be available for us on Thursday,” Thomson said Tuesday. “Everybody on the team is going to have to be prepared.”
If Minnesota beats Iowa, it will play Illinois in Friday’s second-round match, which will be a test of the team’s fitness, health and resilience.
The Gophers lost 6-1 to Illinois on April 1 at home. Since then, they are 3-3 in conference with two wins against ranked opponents.
“I know all of us would be very eager for that opportunity [to play Illinois],” Thomson. “I don’t think we played our best match against them.”
The men’s team has won four consecutive matches this month — a streak that started with their comeback upset win at Indiana on April 14.
The Gophers and Hoosiers could meet again in the Big Ten tournament’s second round Friday in Evanston, Ill.
Minnesota, the fourth seed, received a first-round bye and will have Thursday off. Fifth-seeded Indiana will play Iowa in the first round Thursday.
The Hawkeyes didn’t win a conference match all season, so the rematch is likely to happen. How it will turn out is anyone’s guess, as both Minnesota and Indiana have won consistently in the conference in recent years while playing competitive matches with each other.
The Gophers beat Indiana 4-0 in the third round of last year’s conference tournament, winning the doubles point and three singles matches.
Their run ended in the final at the hands of top-seeded Ohio State, which captured the conference crown again this season. The Buckeyes have won 90 straight Big Ten matches.
If Minnesota wins its second-round match, it will likely face Ohio State in Saturday’s semifinals.
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