Hoping to draw experience from a disappointing Big Ten tournament, Minnesota begins its NCAA postseason on Friday in Los Angeles when the Gophers face New Mexico in a first round match.
It marks Minnesota’s 20th NCAA tournament appearance and its 14th trip to the postseason in the last 16 years. The Gophers and Lobos are familiar rivals, having met eight previous times, including a 5-2 New Mexico victory in 2007 in Albuquerque. Minnesota
The match is set for Friday at 2 p.m. (Pacific time) at Marks Stadium on the University of Southern California campus. Southern California, which is the eighth overall seed in the tournament, faces UC-Santa Barbara in the other first round match on Friday at 5 p.m. The winners meet on Saturday at 3 p.m. for one of 16 spots in the NCAA finals in College Station, Texas May 14-19.
Minnesota is currently 18-7 overall and experienced the best one-year turnaround in school history after posting a 7-17 mark during 2008. However, the Gophers are hoping to avenge a frustrating 4-1 loss to Indiana in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. Minnesota entered that match seeded third in the tournament, while Indiana was seeded sixth.
“We learned a valuable lesson in the Big Ten tournament,” Minnesota coach Geoff Young said. “We were excited about the chance to play Illinois in the semifinals and we overlooked Indiana in the first round. We’ve learned from that and our entire focus this week has been on New Mexico. They’re a good team and it’s going to be a tight match.”
New Mexico is 20-5 overall and claimed an automatic bid by winning the Mountain West Conference tournament. The Lobos are led by junior Johnny Parkes from England, who is 23-2 in singles and automatically qualified for the NCAA individual tournament as the Mountain West Conference’s top-ranked player and Player of the Year. Parkes is ranked 77th nationally and beat Minnesota’s Sebastian Gallego 6-3, 6-3 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association qualifying tournament in Tulsa, Okla. in October.
Minnesota’s Ishay Hadash will likely draw Parkes in the dual match at the No. 1 singles position. Hadash is currently 20-11 in singles and the second alternate for the NCAA individual tournament. Hadash is ranked 60th in the latest national rankings and also owns a 19-12 doubles mark, including a 7-2 record with Gallego all against Big Ten competition.
Gophers’ sophomore Tobias Wernet is ranked 82nd in the country and has a 25-8 season record. His 25 singles victories are the most in a season by a Minnesota player since Chris Wettengel went 26-8 during 2004.
Dino Bilankov was Minnesota’s lone victor against Indiana at No. 4 singles and has been one of the Gophers’ hottest players with four straight wins and a 10-2 record over the past 12 matches. Bilankov is 21-7 for the season and one of six players with at least 20 wins, marking just the sixth time in Minnesota history the Gophers have had six 20-match winners. Phil Arndt has won 19 matches this season and could give the Gophers seven players with 20 wins for the first time in school history.
If Minnesota advances and meets Southern California in the next round, it would be the sixth meeting between the schools and the first since 2002. The Trojans have won four of the previous five encounters and feature four ranked players, including Robert Farah, who is ranked eighth in the country. Minnesota has won all three previous meetings with UC-Santa Barbara.