Every match is special in its own way. But then there are those contests that are circled on the calendar months ahead of time. For Penn men’s tennis, that time is bright and early Sunday morning, when it will be hosting Minnesota.
The man who it will mean the most to won’t be on the courts, however. For coach David Geatz, welcoming his former team to the Hecht Tennis Center will be a trip down memory lane. Having made his name with the Golden Gopher program during nearly two decades of dominance, Geatz secured accolades including five Big Ten championships, a 45-match win streak in conference play, three Big Ten Coach of the Year awards, and NCAA Regional Coach of the Year honors.
Naturally, he’s something of a legend in the Twin Cities. So when he picked up the phone to call in a favor, Minnesota made it happen.
“I was in the Big Ten for eighteen years and had a lot of good times at Minnesota. I know the coach really well because he worked with me for a summer, and it’s nice to get them out here to play us,” Geatz said. “To get a Big Ten team here for a match is not easy to do, so as a perennially top-20 or 25 team, this would be a great match for our guys. So I persuaded him into a home-and-away.”
Despite the air of amiability, the Quakers (3-1) will be rigorously tested, as the Golden Gophers (5-0) have demonstrated their supremacy quite plainly. Both teams will be riding high coming off impressive doubleheader sweeps this past weekend. For Penn, the wins both came at 6-1 over Georgetown and Temple, with a handful of straight-set victories across the ladder. From Minnesota’s perspective, things are looking pretty good, having easily dispatched of Marquette and South Dakota State at love, coming to Philadelphia having only dropped three points on the year.
For junior captain Josh Pompan, who slots twice Saturday, this matchup will give the squad a chance to prove its resilience.
“We’ve had a tough road so far. Our first match we had to go down to Tennessee and play two tough teams, Middle Tennessee State, where we pulled out a really good win, and then Vanderbilt, who will probably be top-25 in the country, so they were tough,” Pompan said. “This was a brutal double header, so I think we’re well prepared, and we’ll take this week to train and get ready for them, because they will be tough.”
Regarding the atmosphere surrounding the match, Pompan noted the significance of his coach’s historic connection to the visitors.
“It’s funny because coach Geatz is a legend at Minnesota, because he coached there for 18 years,” Pompan said. “He has a banner on their court, so it will be cool for them to be coming to our building and hopefully we’ll take them out.”
Thinking about the upcoming reunion, Geatz cracked a smile and said, “It will be nice to have the Golden Gophers here. They’re a good group of guys, and I’m looking forward to it. Should be great competition for us and a lot of fun.”
With the strength of the Minnesota team hardly a secret, Penn knows it will have to come out firing on all cylinders to come away victorious against such heavy opposition.
On that note, Geatz admitted the team is not truly at full strength, citing illness and admissibility problems as the hindrances.
“We have a really good guy who played number one for us two years ago, who is not eligible yet, Nicholas Podesta, who’s a very good player. If he becomes eligible, it will impact our team a lot, and we’ll become significantly better with him in the line-up,” Geatz said. “If we get a couple guys healthy too; Nicholai Westergaard isn’t healthy and Marshall Sharpe couldn’t play against Temple because of a hurt back. We just need a fully healthy, eligible team and we’ll do well.”
Regarding Podesta, the former Penn ace was removed from the roster last April surrounding rumors of a professional career attempt and disputes with coaches and players. The four-time junior national champion was integral to Geatz’s program, and his return could really shake things up again.
Asked whether he could foresee these players making a return for Sunday, Geatz said, “I do, but I’m an optimistic guy. It could just go to crap too; you never know.”
If everything pans out, maybe the Quakers can rally behind their coach, and give his old program a run for its money.
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