Ski-U-Mah Life: Storming Norman
May 16, 2018

Ski-U-Mah Life is a feature series from GopherSports.com that highlights some of the more than 700 Minnesota student-athletes outside of their athletic accomplishments. This week, a look back at the men's tennis team's big weekend in Oklahoma.

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The Gopher men's tennis team, now in its 11th season under head coach Geoff Young, has built itself into a perennial postseason contender. Making its eighth NCAA appearance under Young this past weekend, the Gophers were looking for icing on the cake of another outstanding season.

What they weren't expecting was to take over the bakery.

"I really went into the weekend excited and looking forward to playing because I really thought our guys were in a great way," said Young. "I've been telling them for the past three or four weeks, something big was coming."

"I was feeling really confident before this weekend, and felt like something was going to happen," added junior Josip Krstanovic. "I think the whole team felt like something was going to happen, and it did."

The Gophers were coming off a semifinal loss in the Big Ten Tournament two weeks earlier to Ohio State, and the Maroon and Gold needed a win to swing its momentum back to the positive side.

"Ohio State is a team that could win the whole thing; that's as good as it gets in college tennis," said Young. "So when we played them tough at home, that lifted us. When we did it again in the Big Ten Tournament that lifted us even more.


 

 

"Throughout the year I tried to tell the guys, confidence doesn't have to be fleeting," added the head coach. "It's something that we're trying to take control of and grab a hold of. Right now we all have it, and I don't think we're going to let go of it."

It started Friday afternoon at the Headington Family Tennis Center with the first of two upsets coming in white-knuckle fashion. It took all six singles matches to determine the outcome against No. 19 Georgia, with senior Felix Corwin capping the victory in No. 1 singles. Corwin, who entered the weekend ranked 53rd in the nation, dropped the first set but rallied for a tie-break in the second, and punctuated the victory with a 6-2 win in the third set over No. 37 Wayne Montgomery.

"It was definitely a tall task to lose the doubles point and try to win four out of six against a Georgia team that's one of the most talented in the country," Corwin said. "To have seen that we can pull something off like that gave us a ton of confidence going into Oklahoma."

Already with one upset in hand, the Gophers were playing with nothing to lose in Saturday's showdown with the homestanding 14th-ranked Sooners.

Quickly the tone was set with Minnesota's pairings of Corwin and Josip Krstanovic along with Stefan Milicevic and Marino Alpeza winning their sets to earn the doubles point.

1-0, Gophers.

"The doubles point is always big. It felt like we hadn't won one in a while and our third doubles team has done a really good job for us," Young said.

"Whenever we get that win, it gives us so much extra confidence because we are so great on the singles court," Corwin added.

Onto the singles courts, with Minnesota needing to win just half of their matches. Again it was Corwin who set the tone, knocking off another top-40 ranked opponent - this time in straight sets.

Krstanovic matched his doubles partner, also posting a 6-4, 6-2 win to move the Gophers one point away from the Sweet Sixteen.

"Every single match, we were in it or leading," Corwin explained. "That was huge to have not just relying on one or two potential results but four that we could have very well won. That's an amazing feeling to be cheering for all your guys and going for a win like that is so much fun."

Every other court, though, would split the first two sets to force a third. With a jumpstart on his teammates, Allen brought the Gophers to the brink of victory first in the No. 5 singles spot. Leading 5-2 and with match point, Allen received Bertsch's serve and delivered a backhand right down the middle of the court. His opponent's return was wide and Allen tossed his hat in the air before his teammates joined him for an on-court celebration.

"The point before it, [Jackson] played an incredible point and lost it. And we were like leaning over the edge ready to sprint at him because we were boiling with excitement," Corwin said. "Jackson clinched it and all thoughts go away, we're just rushing him because it's such a special moment - trying to get to Jackson as soon as possible to celebrate.

It was a clean sweep. 4-0 Gophers with a ticket to Winston-Salem punched.

 "It felt like the longest hour of my life, from the time it was 3-0 to 4-0," Young said. "It was pretty exciting, really trying to stay focused on the tennis and not keep any focus on the scoreboard. That's hard to do."

"On the team, we don't feel like it was such a huge upset," added sophomore Stefan Milicevic. "We just went down, played our tennis, battled, and that's what happened."

The round of 16 and another grudge match with Ohio State awaits in the Tar Heel State. After a pair of defeats at the hands of the Buckeyes this season, including in the Big Ten semifinals last month, the Gophers have more than enough fuel to keep their run going.

"I definitely do feel the confidence and the swagger," said Krstanovic. "I think that we're going to have to bring it in practice to beat Ohio State. I know we're capable of beating them because we were really close two times this season."

A win, beyond the berth in the round of eight, would carry extra significance for everyone on the team.

"That would be very special, and would validate just how great of an effort these two seniors [Corwin and Matic Spec] - their integrity, their character and their faith, working as hard as they do, never taking a day off," said Young. "That would be the most gratifying piece, to see their leadership pay off in that way."

"That's really inspiring for me, and it just means a lot to know that we've got such a closely knit group of guys that are trying to achieve the same goal," responded Corwin. "It's really special and it makes me thirsty for more." 


Dan Reisig is an associate director of athletic communications at the University of Minnesota, and a contributing writer to GopherSports.com and Ski-U-Mah Magazine.

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