After losing the first two meets of their spring break trip, mens tennis seemed in danger of having their season slip away. But sparked by a new relaxed attitude, Chicago got back on track.
The 19th-ranked Maroons (86) rebounded to win their final three matches, learning to trust their abilities and each other as they head down the stretch. This time around, the men figured out how to stop worrying about numbers and focus on playing their game.
We pulled it together toward the end of the trip, head coach Marty Perry said. Were going to go out there and show the Central Region what we can do.
After dropping an uneven match against Division II Washburn (82) and falling to Kalamazoo (67), the Maroons won the next three matches to finish their break action on a high note. They beat Wooster and St. Thomas (Minnesota) 70 each, and then wrapped things up with a 5—2 decision over high-riding Carleton (122).
The season started out well for the Maroons last fall, and the team continued to impress when competition got going again in January. The squads composure helped them handle tough regional opponents right out of the gate. Chicago notched decisive wins over Denison and league rival Carnegie Mellon as part of a five-of-six run from January 28 to February 12.
Chicago then hit a bump in the road, losing five straight from the end of February through early March. The skid culminated with the two slip-ups in South Carolina. At a point when many teams would have folded, the Maroons recaptured their fire.
I just think we need to build on our break trip, Perry said. We didnt lie down, we came up fighting.
With a new hot streak in hand, the team has put the nation on notice that they intend to be taken seriously. The nation appears to have been paying attention, as the Maroons moved up from 25th to 19th in the latest national rankings.
The new momentum could be coming at just the right time for the Maroons, with less than three weeks to go before the UAA championships.
As they march toward their season-long goal of a second straight NCAA tournament bid, the Maroons will be increasingly looking for leadership from veterans like fourth-year Ward Bortz. The regionally sixth-ranked Bortz (116), who has dominated opponents at first singles this season, has shown his versatility in doubles as well. He was a critical factor in helping Chicago reach the postseason last year for the first time ever.
After their final regular season road meet against Wheaton today, the Maroons are slated to host back-to-back matches against Calvin and DuPage April 8. The squad will then square off against eighth-ranked Wash U April 9. A win against the Bears could provide the fuel the Maroons need for a strong showing at UAAs.
We expect to win most, if not all, of our next few matches, third-year Vivek Venkataraman said. Hopefully, we will enter the post-season with some fresh wins and lots of confidence.