May 10, 2012
The Minnesota women's tennis team faces Arizona on Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Gophers are in the tournament for the first time since 2003. We spoke with head coach Tyler Thomson about the team's return to the NCAA tournament and the season as a whole.
GopherSports: Ty, how does it feel to have the team back in the NCAA tournament?
Tyler Thomson: It is really nice to kind of have it as a representation of the program's improvement over the last few years. It is very emblematic of all the contributions the players have made on the team this year. It is nice to be in the mix again and have an opportunity to do well on the national scene and establish Minnesota's tennis program as one of the better teams in the country.
GS: You play a fall tournament at North Carolina every year. Does knowing the location or being comfortable with the area help you in anyway?
TT: I think some of the girls would have preferred to go somewhere where they had not been before just for a new experience. But we are familiar with the area. We go there every fall and we have played some dual matches there. So in that sense, we have a familiarity with the courts and the environment. I think the most interesting thing for us in terms of an advantage is that Arizona is going to have to play the match at 7 a.m. their time, which means they are going to have to start their preparation at about 5 a.m. Who knows how that will play out, but the fact that we only have to go over one time zone to get there is nice compared to having to go over more.
GS: What do you know about Arizona?
TT: Very little, but you have to know that coming out of that conference that they have to be battle-tested and are used to playing high-level tennis. They know what it takes to win against a high-quality opponent. I know they have some big hitters in their lineup and they are very used to outdoor tennis. But in terms of how we match up with them specifically, I do not know much and I am ok with that. I think as long as we take care of the things we need to focus on we will be competitive. At this point of the season it is kind of your best against their best. We have had a good week of practice. We know the things we have to do in order to be successful against anybody.
GS: How would you describe the season? The team got off to a 12-1 start and then ended the year with a 5-6 record in the Big Ten.
TT: We obviously are in the tournament because of what we did in our non-conference schedule. We got off to a great start. There are a lot of factors, but we did not finish the season the way we wanted to. You always want to be playing your best tennis at the end of the year. I really feel that it was a matter of us getting beaten up as the year rolled along. We were not able to sustain our lineup because of health issues and overall fatigue. Had we had full strength and full health, I think things would have been a lot different in the second half of the season. The good news is that we were able to take a full week of rest after the Big Ten tournament. That has helped us to some degree and the players on the team know now that if you lose, you are done. There is no need to be concerned about keeping reserves in the tank at this point.
When I look back at the season there are a few matches that I think were key for us. LSU really stands out in my mind. We have a history of having a lot of trouble on Spring Break trips and that was our first match outside against a real feisty opponent. It was one of those matches where you can talk about it throughout the whole year and how it is the high-water mark that you are striving to duplicate. Some of our road wins were important. We lost the doubles point at N.C. State, but came back and won enough singles matches to win the match. Starting off the Big Ten season on the road with a win at Wisconsin was big. There are definitely some Big Ten matches I know we would all love to have back again. But we got off to a great start this year and our challenge for next season is going to be able to find new ways to stay healthy and keep people fresh over the long season.
GS: Your lineup also seems to be more stable this year than in year's past and deeper as well.
TT: We have more than six players who are capable of recording wins and without that it would have been hard to be as successful. Our depth has been a strength considering we have people banged up. Overall in terms of the season and why we were successful, that depth was one of the top three factors. We went into matches know that at every spot we had a good chance to be successful. I think that will continue for us now. We have good kids coming in and we have a lot of depth returning. So that was very important for us.
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