Richard Pitino accentuated the importance of recruiting from the moment he stepped foot on campus. The Gophers men’s head basketball coach punctuated his first season at the helm with an NIT title, but he knows future recruiting efforts are going to make the difference in the program turnaround. “I think the one thing you do [as a head coach], 95 percent of the time, is you wake up and think about recruiting,” Pitino said before the season. “It’s the lifeblood of our program. I know the great coaches … have great players.”
The last time the Gophers met Augsburg, their offense struggled a bit. Minnesota’s bats mustered just three hits as the Gophers squeaked out a 1-0 win over the Auggies on April 2. It was a different story Tuesday night. The Gophers pounded home 10 runs on the strength of 14 hits from nine different players as they breezed by Augsburg 10-0 at Siebert Field. Center fielder Dan Motl said the outburst showed just how far Minnesota’s offense has come in the last month.
Elation rushed through Leandro Toledo when he glanced down at his iPhone on Wednesday afternoon. He’d just gotten a text message from head coach Geoff Young informing him that he’d been selected to compete in the NCAA singles tournament. “I was just super happy to find out that I made it,” Toledo said. “I know all the hard work paid off.” It was a moment Toledo couldn’t have imagined a few months ago. He struggled in the fall season and needed a stellar spring session to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
The Gophers were in a bit of a hole Thursday. Without top singles player Tereza Brichacova, Minnesota trailed rival Wisconsin 3-2 in the first round of the Big Ten tournament. Still, the Gophers didn’t panic, didn’t fold and didn’t falter. Minnesota took the final two singles matches, the last a straight-set victory by junior Julia Courter at No. 3 singles, to win the match 4-3. It was another example of the relentless, never-give-up mentality head coach Chuck Merzbacher has instilled in his team.
Jack Hamburg and Mathieu Froment didn’t identify as doubles players when they first arrived on campus. Like many successful tennis players, they came to college focused primarily on the singles game. A few years later, things have changed. These days, Hamburg and Froment appear most comfortable standing side by side on the tennis court.
A pair of constant smiles, lots of laughs and a bunch of victories. That’s been the story of the season for senior Natallia Pintusava and junior Julia Courter on the doubles court. “We’re always laughing and smiling,” Courter said. “I think overall our attitudes and our communication have been a key thing this year, and that’s what led to our success.” It’s easy to grin and giggle when success comes so seamlessly. Courter and Pintusava have amassed a 17-4 record this season, including a 7-2 mark in the Big Ten.
It wasn’t exactly the weekend that the Gophers women’s tennis team was hoping for to wrap up the regular season. No. 59 Minnesota (16-8, 6-5) lost 4-3 to No. 43 Illinois on Friday night before losing 7-0 to No. 13 Northwestern on Sunday afternoon. But the Gophers were far from discouraged, despite the sweep. Minnesota players held their heads high Sunday as they look ahead to next week’s Big Ten tournament.
The Gophers women’s tennis team has been unpredictable at the top of the lineup this season. Tereza Brichacova, Natallia Pintusava and Jessika Mozia have experienced peaks and valleys at the No. 1 singles, No. 2 singles and No. 3 singles spots, respectively. The trio has delivered huge wins for the team but has also suffered through its fair share of struggles. But amid the inconsistency at the top, Minnesota has been one of the steadiest teams in the Big Ten, reaching six conference victories for the first time since 2003.
Sunday marked the last time Juan Pablo Ramirez competitively took the court at the Baseline Tennis Center. The senior walked out a winner, topping Harry Jadun of Michigan State in straight sets. Ramirez’s win added another tally to the Gophers’ 5-2 win over Michigan State, completing a weekend sweep after Minnesota topped Michigan by the same total Friday night. “I was really happy for him,” head coach Geoff Young said. “When the team can win and he can win, that’s fun.”
Leandro Toledo doesn’t hide from it. He said the thought sits in the back of his mind. It drives him forward and pushes him to improve. Toledo badly wants to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament this season. And two victories over top-50 opponents last weekend have him on the cusp of his first NCAA singles appearance.
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