Push for NCAAs ends with fourth-place finish at UAAs

It was a missed opportunity for men’s tennis at the UAA Conference Championships this weekend in Rochester, New York, as they held their seed, finishing fourth.

By Audrey Henkels

It was a missed opportunity for men’s tennis at the UAA Conference Championships this weekend in Rochester, New York, as they held their seed, finishing fourth. The conference title quest started out on a promising note, however, as the squad started with a 7–2 win against fifth-seeded Case Western on Friday afternoon.“We brought a lot of energy and intensity, and that’s what we needed to do to get to the second round,” White said. “You can’t ask for a better win than that.”On Saturday, the Maroons faced Emory, the undefeated number-one ranked team in the country and 16-time defending champion of the UAA title. “We knew going into it that [Emory] was a very talented team,” White said. “In years past, we’ve been thoroughly beaten by [them], and this year we came out, fought hard, and were able to pick up a win at number three doubles.”In that match, second-year Mark Bonner and first-year Troy Brinker were able to pull out a closely contested victory over Emory’s third doubles team by a score of 8–6. The Maroons fared worse in their singles matches, resulting in an 8–1 loss to the Eagles overall, but were competitive in most of the matches. “Up and down our singles line-up, we battled them at every position,” White continued. Chicago’s final match against Carnegie Mellon, whom they battled for third place, was a disappointing venture for the Maroons, who knew the contest had postseason implications. The South Siders were not able to grab the lead after doubles, with only third-years Garrett Brinker and Steve Saltarelli claiming victory 8–5 at the number one position. Carnegie was then able to take that momentum gained into singles, grabbing five of the six contests. Zhang was the lone winner for the squad, triumphing over Carnegie second-year James Muliawan by a score of 7–6 (7–2), 7–5. Overall, however, the Maroons fell 7–2. “[The match] very easily could have been in our favor 7–2,” White said. “On Sunday we just didn’t have it—we didn’t quite have the intensity we’d had over the past few days.”The Maroons were understandably tired as it was their third day of intense competition, but the loss was nonetheless unfortunate.“If we had beaten Carnegie, we probably would have been making it to the NCAAs,” White said.Of the 41 teams that compete at the team NCAA Tournament, held at the beginning of May, 27 win their conference championships, eight are schools without conference affiliations, and the remaining six are chosen by the tournament’s board of directors.While the Maroons are technically still in contention for one of those six at-large spots, the NCAA selection committee traditionally takes no more than the top three teams from the UAA. That, furthered with Chicago losses to at-large competitors Carnegie, Depauw, and Denison, makes the Maroons’ tournament chances a long-shot at best. But for the South Siders’ star, the prospects are brighter. The top eight singles players in each region advance to the individual NCAAs, which are held at the end of May in Claremont, California. Zhang is currently ranked sixth and won’t have any more losses on his record now that the Maroons’ season is likely over. “I’m afraid to say for sure,” assistant coach Jeff White said, “but there would have to be a huge shakeup in the rankings for Zhang not to make it—which I don’t think will happen.”White is proud of the team’s performance this weekend, and is already looking forward to next year. “Everybody that traveled with us to conference will be back next year,” he explained, as the team will not be graduating any starters this spring. “From a coaching standpoint, that’s great. They’ll already know what they’re doing and how we want them to play, they’re just going to be a year older and more mature and hopefully have a better season.”The remaining teams throughout the country will compete in their conference championships over the next two weeks, after which Zhang and the rest of his teammates will hear whether or not they will advance to the national level of competition in May.