UAAs begin in Rochester

Men’s tennis, currently ranked 18th in the country, will compete in the UAA Championships this weekend in Rochester, NY, where they’ll have one last—and, admittedly, long—shot at making the postseason.

By Audrey Henkels

Men’s tennis, currently ranked 18th in the country, will compete in the UAA Championships this weekend in Rochester, NY, where they’ll have one last—and, admittedly, long—shot at making the postseason.First-years Troy Brinker and Jan Stefanski; second-years Mark Bonner, Paul Namkoong, and Will Zhang; and third-years Garrett Brinker and Steve Saltarelli made the trek to upstate New York on Thursday. They will begin their three-day competition Friday when they face Case Western, which is seeded fifth in the championship. The Maroons are seeded fourth.“This is a big weekend,” Zhang said, “so we’re really going to try to bring our A-game.” “We have a really good lineup,” he continued. Saltarelli and Garrett Brinker will compose Chicago’s number-one doubles team, Stefanski and Zhang the number-two, and Bonner and Troy Brinker the number-three. Zhang has not played doubles in competitions throughout most of the season. “I just started my doubles campaign with Jan,” Zhang said, “but we have the chemistry we want to have, and feel like we both have the games to be able to execute [beating] the number two doubles opponent.” While Zhang believes that the three doubles teams will be competitive, he acknowledges that each will need to think strategically. “We need to really focus on trying to get ahead early in the matches,” he said, “and specifically go hard on doubles.”Individually, he believes that each team member is very strong. “I feel like we’re a pretty deep team, and everyone has a shot at beating their opponent,” Zhang said. “If we keep our intensity up, I feel like all six of our singles have the ability to win.”“If we bring the same level of motivation we brought last weekend, and have the same volume on the court, we should take care of business,” he said. Last weekend, Chicago dominated Lake Forest in a home match 8–1. Stefanski agrees that high intensity will be an important factor in the team’s performance at the UAAs. “We like to cheer each other on,” he said. “Like during a doubles match, we support each other and talk, and shout people’s names to pump them up when they’re down.” “This is how we’ve been winning matches,” Stefanski said. “If we really want it, we can prove to other players that we can [accomplish it].” Other team members, such as third-year Lado Bakhutashvili, who is not competing this weekend due to shoulder injuries, agree that this is an important aspect of the team’s play and predict that the Maroons will feed off of each other this weekend. “I believe that the Brinker brothers will be pivotal during the UAAs, as they manage to encourage each other and the rest of the team to play their best,” Bakhutashvili said.The team also recognizes the importance of the leadership it gets not only from head coach Marty Perry, but also from assistant coach Jeff White, who has been with the Maroons for three years.“Jeff is super,” said Zhang. “He’s really helped us get our act together in terms of intensity—he knows what it’s like to fight hard every match—and he’s really helped us to improve a lot.”“I think we’re a talented team, but we’re also well coached,” he added. The results of the coaching and the capacity of the team’s talent will culminate this weekend; if they don’t win, it will mark the end of their 2008–2009 season. The players, however, are optimistic about the outcome. “I feel like we have a good shot at making the NCAAs,” Zhang said. “I’m sure if we finish in the top three [at the UAAs], we have a chance at making the national tournament. Hopefully we’ll play great and make it.” Currently on the edge of the postseason picture, the Maroons could snag the final at-large bid to the NCAA tournament in a couple of scenarios.Because of their seeding in the tournament, they line up to play first-seeded Emory, the best team in the nation, in the second round, and an unlikely upset there would boost Chicago into the postseason.If that doesn’t happen, the Maroons will have to win the third-place match; if all goes to seeding, they’ll meet 15th-ranked Carnegie Mellon in that match. Chicago will also need 13th-ranked DePauw to beat 14th-ranked UT–Trinity in the SCAC tournament for Chicago to jump into the final at-large spot. A third-place finish for Chicago and a loss for Trinity would make the NCAA selection committee’s decision a tough one.