Men’s tennis burned at Stagg

By Joe Katz

This weekend, men’s tennis had a golden opportunity to make their presence felt among the best in the region. Instead, they’ll enter their last two regular season meets looking to rebound.

In showdowns with two of the Central region’s best teams, the 19th-ranked Maroons (9–8) couldn’t capitalize as they dropped Saturday’s match against regionally 12th-ranked Calvin (12–3) 4–3 and Sunday’s bout with eighth-ranked Wash U (11–1) 6–1 at home. Second-year Sasha Deriy at third singles was the only Chicago player to record singles wins on both days, winning his fifth and sixth straight matches to improve to 13–8 overall. The team scored a 7–0 knockout against the junior college DuPage Chaparrals Saturday afternoon in a contest that was not counted toward official statistics.

The defeats, which dropped the South Siders to 5–7 against regionally ranked opponents, will likely not wipe out the team’s chances of making the NCAA tournament. However, a weekend sweep would have almost certainly locked up a postseason berth, and the losses should have serious implications for seeding at both the NCAAs and the UAA tourney April 21–23.

“We’ll be in the hunt, but the NCAAs are probably out of our control now. We’re going to have to wait and see,” head coach Marty Perry said. “We just have to win our next two, and build our momentum focusing on UAAs.”

Everything came down to a few points either way against the Knights in the first match of the weekend. The home team got an 8–5 win at first doubles from fourth-year Ward Bortz and third-year Vivek Venkataraman over second-year Ricky Tilton and first-year Marcus Zeilstra, but the Maroons were not as successful at the other spots. The tandems of second-years Joseph Tchan and Bharath Sithian (9–7 loss at second) and Deriy and first-year Alex Winney (8–6 defeat at third) were squeezed out to give Calvin the pairs point.

Down 1–0 entering singles competition, the Maroons needed four matches to pull it out. They nearly got there, with 21st-ranked Bortz (13–7) crushing regionally 27th-ranked Tilton (7–4) 6–1, 6–1 at first, Deriy fending off a second set challenge from Zeilstra (10–1) 6–2, 7–6 at third, and Sithian (10–10) holding second-year Mike Goorhouse (7–3) at arm’s length 6–1, 6–4 at fifth. Unfortunately, Venkataraman (9–13) saw his struggles continue in a 6–3, 6–2 loss to fourth-year Rafael Siebenschein (8–2) at second, first-year Connor Farrell (8–6) was whipped at sixth 6–1, 6–1 by third-year Dan Volkema (8–1), and Tchan (12–10) fell 4–6, 6–2, 6–3 at fourth to fourth-year Ryan DeNooyer (5–6) for the deciding point.

“All of the matches were important versus Calvin. I’m not sure why we couldn’t pull this one off. Sometimes things just don’t work out as one would like them to,” Bortz said.

After bouncing back with a resounding victory over the overmatched Chaparrals, the squad had an opportunity to make a serious statement against their league rival. Unfortunately, the Bears were able to send an early message by busting out the brooms in doubles. Bortz and Venkatarman pushed the regionally third-ranked pair of fourth-year Ari Rosenthal and first-year Charlie Cutler to the limit but fell 9–8 (7–5) at first. Tchan and Sithian were defeated 8–3 by first-years Trevis Bowman and Nirmal Choradia at second, while fourth-year Zack Fayne and first-year Chris Hoeland slipped past Winney and Deriy 8-–6 at third.

“On a good day, we can compete at every position with them, but we were going to have to earn every point,” Perry said. “Their second singles from last year is at five, a couple of their top six aren’t playing. They’re pretty talented.”

It would be more of the same in singles. Cutler (16–4) demonstrated why he sits as high as 13th in the regional rankings with a 6–1, 6–1 win over Venkataraman at second. His teammates did their parts as well, with Choradia (9–3) holding off Tchan 6–4, 6–4 at fourth, Fayne (10–3) slamming Sithian 6–2, 6–4 at fifth, and Bowman (15–3) dealing Winney a bad hand 6–2, 6–0 at sixth. Despite high hopes in a battle between nationally ranked opponents, 23rd-ranked Rosenthal (18–3) overwhelmed Bortz 6–0, 6–2. The two had split their head-to-head match-ups last year.

“Ari’s a good player. His game is such that if you are having a bad day, it will be lopsided in his favor,” Bortz said. “Unfortunately, I was not playing my best, and the scores reflected it.”

“Ward just never really found his rhythm yesterday. Rosenthal was keeping a lot of balls in play and keeping it deep, and Ward felt like he had to speed up his game and go for the big shots to beat him. They didn’t fall,” Perry said. “I have faith in Ward. He’ll bounce back and be ready for the UAA tournament, and maybe have another shot at Rosenthal then.”

Only Deriy’s 6–4, 7–6 (7–2) winner over Hoeland (6–2) at third prevented Chicago from being whitewashed on the day.

“He’s not trying to win quickly, but he’s using his strength, speed, and athleticism to his advantage, and it’s working for him,” Perry said. “It’s nothing earth-shattering, just him being patient and using his strengths.”

With both of their remaining meets scheduled for Stagg, the Maroons will be hoping for a little home-court advantage against regionally 15th-ranked Luther (13–10) Friday at 3:30 and again April 19 against Olivet Nazarene (3–4 as of March 31).