SPORTS

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April 27, 2007

Judgment day for men’s tennis at UAAs

Going into this season, the expectations of the men’s tennis teamwere tempered by a mix of inexperience and x-factors. With much of last year’s squad lost to graduation and an influx of untested newcomers tabbed to fill their spots, head coach Marty Perry’s squad would have been excused if it had taken its lumps on the court this spring.

Buoyed by the emergence of strong doubles pairings, though, Chicago (8–7) has turned in the surprise performance of the spring campaign, and should cap off its season on a high note with a big weekend in Cleveland.

After a 7–2 whupping of Wheaton (11–8) Tuesday at the Stagg Courts to finish out the regular season slate, the Maroons head to the Cuyahago River Valley today for the UAA championships at Case. The squad will be looking to improve upon last season’s performance in Atlanta, when the third-seeded South Siders slipped to a disappointing fifth after being upset by sixth-seeded Carnegie Mellon in the first round.

Entering the weekend as the fifth seed in a bracket, the Maroons will have a chance for upward mobility in their opening round date with fourth-seeded Brandeis (9–7). Unbeaten in three matches this season against UAA opponents, the Judges have one common opponent with Chicago—NYU—and if the results from those meetings are any indication, Friday’s matchup should be a battle. Both squads dismantled the Violets to the tune of 8–1.

Led by the pairing of fourth-years Michael Vulfovich and Sam Jonas, the nation’s 15th-ranked doubles tandem (11–5), the Judges will give the Maroons’ first doubles pairing of first-year Steve Saltarelli and fourth-year Vivek Venkataraman (10–7) a worthy challenge. Doubles has been a strong point for the Maroons this season, with the number-two pairing of first-years Garrett Brinker and Noah Schneider providing a steadying presence in the second slot with a stellar season mark of 13–2.

Should the squad pull off the mini-upset, it will almost certainly take on nationally third-ranked and first-seeded Emory in the quarterfinal round Saturday. National champions in 2003 and 2006, the powerhouse Eagles have held the UAA first-place hardware for the past 17 years running, and have taken home the trophy every year in the league’s 18-year history. Last season, Emory earned the team title with a 6–0 shutout of Wash U.

With third-ranked second-year Michael Goodwin (17–4) and sixth-ranked fourth-year Yoji Masuoka (19–2) both among the best in the nation in singles and teaming up to form the country’s third-ranked doubles pairing (12–1), an upset might be too much to ask of the young Maroons. Still, a strong performance would provide further evidence of just how far the squad has come after an uncertain beginning and provide another building block for what looks to be an even stronger 2007 campaign.

In their home sendoff against the Thunder, the Maroons earned a clean sweep in the doubles events and took all but two singles events to notch the decisive victory in regional action. The victory demonstrated Chicago’s strength at the bottom of the lineup, with easy straight-set victories at fifth and sixth singles from Schneider and third-year Bharath Sithian and an 8–3 win at third doubles from Sithian and third-year Joseph Tchan.

Despite moving in and out of the national rankings throughout the season, the squad’s only shot at a berth in the NCAA tournament would be via the automatic bid awarded to conference champions. In previous years, postseason selections were distributed based on regional rankings, but this season the NCAA followed the trend set in other sports to place more weight on conference play.