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Third-year Gophers women’s tennis coach Catrina Thompson had players from all over the world – three from the U.S. (Minnesota, Florida and Illinois), two from Canada (Toronto and Vancouver) and one apiece from the Bahamas, Egypt, Turkey and Uruguay.

But she got them to mesh pretty well.

“The goal we set each year are to do better than the year before,” she said before the spring season began.

Mission accomplished.

In 2018, her first season, the Gophers were 14-12 overall and 6-5 (tied for seventh) in the Big Ten, and improved slightly last season to 14-11 and 6-5 (tied for sixth) in conference play.

This season, before the coronavirus pandemic abruptly stopped the entire sports world, the Gophers made a much bigger jump to 12-3 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten.

That record needs a bit of perspective:

  • The Gophers had a nine-match winning streak,tying for the third longest winning streak in the 45-year history of the program (the 2000 team won 12 in a row, the 1978 team 11, and the 1997 and 2003 teams nine straight)
  • The .800 winning percentage was the best since 1978 when Minnesota finished 30-6 (.861)
  • The Gophers were 10-0 at the Baseline Tennis Center, their spiffy home indoor facility
  • The Gophers had not finished higher than fifth place in the conference standings since 2003 when they were 18-7 and tied for first in the Big Ten standings with a 9-1 mark. That's their lone conference title ever. … This year their last match was a 4-3 win over No. 21-ranked Wisconsin (8-2, 0-1). Earlier they beat Iowa 4-1 in a match that didn’t count in the conference standings and Rutgers 7-0 in a match that did. So a high conference finish looked realistic

Three freshmen and three seniors – who have the option of coming back because the NCAA gave spring sports athletes an extra year of eligibility -- were the keys to this team.

Dalila Said, a redshirt freshman from Cairo, Egypt, showed a lot of promise. She was a transfer from Georgia Tech. There she played in the fall of 2018, then suffered a torn ACL early in the 2019 spring season and needed a full year to recuperate.

She finally made her debut in the Gophers spring season opener on Jan. 18. She won her matches in singles and doubles as the Gophers beat Montana 6-1 in Missoula. “I feel very satisfied,” she said. “Coming back after a year and getting a win just shows that I’ve been doing the right thing.”

Said was 9-2 in singles, including 5-2 at No. 1, and 8-3 in doubles, including 7-2 as Ekin Ercetin’s partner at No. 2 doubles.

Her 6-3, 6-3 win clinched the Iowa victory.

Said played on national Egyptian and Spanish teams, starting on an under-12 Egyptian team, and was ranked among the top 100 juniors in the world by the International Tennis Federation before starting college.

Ekin Ercetin, a freshman from Ankara, Turkey, was 12-2 in singles in the spring, playing No. 3 or No 4, and 9-2 in doubles. She has played on Turkey’s U14, U16 and U18 national teams.

A third freshman with international experience is Lucia De Santa Ana of Montevideo, Uruguay. She played for her country in the 2016 Junior Fed Cup in Hungary. She was 2-0 in singles in the spring, and 7-3 in doubles, including fall.

Thompson can build around those freshmen the next three seasons.

The three seniors on the team were Tina Kreinis of Toronto, who was 10-7 overall at No. 1 or 2 singles and 16-4 in doubles, counting fall; Cammy Frei of Winnetka, Ill., who was 8-4 in singles and 6-5 in doubles in the spring, and Tiffany Huber of Boca Raton, Fla., who was 13-8 overall in singles, usually at No. 3, and 17-4 in doubles, 9-2 as Kreinis’ partner at No. 1 doubles.

Frei had a key role in what turned out to be the season-ending 4-3 win over Wisconsin, winning 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 at No. 5 singles for the winning point. “We lost to them 5-2 last year, so I wanted to get revenge,” she said. “And it’s always good to beat the Badgers.”

The other key player on the Gophers was junior Juliet Zhang of Vancouver, British Columbia. She was 9-1 in singles at No. 6 in the spring, and 11-0 in doubles.

Junior River Hart of Nassau, the Bahamas, and sophomore Bella Lambert of Minnetonka High School also played for the Gophers at times. Hart was 11-3 overall in singles, 14-3 in doubles. Lambert, the 2016 Class 2A singles champion for the Skippers, was 5-3 in singles, 6-2 in doubles.

Looking ahead to 2021, the Gophers signed Rachel Hansford of Mississauga, Ontario, one of the better young players in Canada. She was a member of the U16 Canada Fed Cup team and has been an Outdoor Provincial tournament singles finalist and a doubles champion.

Gophers by the numbers

3 Number of losses this spring … 4-0 to then-No. 4 UCLA, 4-3 to Utah and 4-1 to Colorado, all on road

7 Gophers’ sweeps this season, five by 7-0 scores, two by 4-0 scores

9 Regular-season matches canceled, plus Big Ten Championship in Purdue, April 23-26, and spring training trip to Orlando, Fla., in mid-March

21-1 Combined home record for 2020 spring season and 2019