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Big Ten Tournament: Hawkeye women's tennis look for revenge

BY PATRICK MASON | APRIL 26, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa women's tennis team struggled against Big Ten opponents this season. A large number of strong teams in the conference, coupled with facing good teams on the road, pushed the Hawkeyes near the bottom of the conference with a 2-9 Big Ten record.

That league mark dropped the Black and Gold to the No. 11 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, where they will face No. 6-seed Minnesota today in Columbus, Ohio.

This will be the first conference tournament for more than half of Iowa's starters. Four freshmen have been solid for the Hawkeyes throughout the year and will serve as a backbone for Iowa's tournament run.

Iowa has a few things to play for. Senior Sonja Molnar needs another singles win to nab her 100th, and the team will try to secure its first-ever conference tournament championship — but that's something they will have to achieve from the bottom up.

Hawkeye head coach Katie Dougherty dismissed the idea that being a low seed gives a team the opportunity to sneak up on opponents that might take it lightly.

"With the strength of the league this year, there's a much thinner line between No. 11 and No. 6 than there has been. [Minnesota] will be prepared for us," she said.

The Hawkeyes traveled to Minnesota on Sunday, and fell 6-1 in the last meet of the regular season. Now the Hawkeyes are eyeing a rematch at a neutral site in Columbus.

"It's a great opportunity for us to play Minnesota again," said Sonja Molnar, who is 5-1 against the Golden Gophers and lost her first match on Sunday. "It's revenge time."

The Hawkeyes went 1-9 on the road this season, and playing away from the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex is something with which they struggled all season. But the tournament will be played on a neutral site — except in host Ohio State's meets — and Molnar said that could be an advantage for her team.

"It's great to play them again at a neutral site where [both teams] are not accustomed to the courts and fans," Molnar said. "The outcome this time will be a more accurate evaluation of our ability."

Iowa will also be at full strength starting the tournament, a luxury the team hasn't enjoyed in almost three weeks. Freshmen Shelby Talcott and Ellen Silver, both starters for much of the year, didn't play in the first meeting with Minnesota due to nagging injuries. With both of them back in the starting lineup, Iowa can start athletes where they are used to playing and solidify the lineup throughout.

"We will have our No. 2 and No. 6 back in the lineup," Dougherty said. "Having Shelby and Ellen back makes us deeper, and I feel like we have a much better opportunity to beat a good team. When we're all healthy and playing well, [Minnesota] is a team we can compete with."

The squad has toyed with doubles pairings in search of the right combinations and energy throughout the season, and Dougherty said she will unveil three new pairings today. Minnesota ended the season ranked No. 34 in the country and had a solid doubles team that was ranked No. 52. Dougherty said doubles were the key to beating the Gophers.

"The big thing for us is coming out strong in doubles and the first set in singles," the head coach said. "We're fired up, believe we can win, and are happy to have the opportunity to play another good team."

Senior Ally Majercik — who competed against Minnesota on April 22 but likely won't today due to Silver's return — said the team has a bit of a sour taste in its mouth from the last meeting.

"We're all excited about getting a second shot at them, and I know there will be different matchups," Majercik said. "Since we lost to them, it's kind of fresh. We want to bring it to them this time."

Follow DI women's tennis reporter Patrick Mason on Twitter.


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