Anchored by a corps of first-year talent, the Maroons made their way to a third-place conference finish last spring and a 10–8 record. Then-rookies and roommates Garrett Brinker and Noah Schneider earned their spots with respective singles records of 13–6 and 12–8, good for first- and third-best on the team. Adding to their early collegiate success, the duo cleaned up in the second doubles slot, posting a 14–3 mark on the season. Not to be shown up by his younger teammates, then–third-year Bharath Sithian battled to an 11–5 finish and earned a spot on the All-UAA team along with Schneider.
Despite their talent, the team couldn’t garner an NCAA bid for the team or lock down any individual trips to the tourny. Returning to the national stage will likely be a major goal for this season.
Making Schneider’s transfer to the University of Pennsylvania easier to swallow, Chicago picked up second-year Lado Bakhutashvili, a transfer from D-I Marquette. However, Bakhutashvili didn’t start in his freshman season, and so, along with the first-years, he gives the Maroons yet another question mark in the category of talent without experience.
Yet what the squad lacks in veterans, it makes up for in its roster depth.
“We’re very equal. One through 10 is competitive,” head coach Marty Perry said. “We don’t have a top six singles at the moment, we don’t have a top three pairs. Depth is our clear strength.”
Four starters return at singles, and with the addition of Bakhutashvili and five first-year recruits, the team can easily fill the remaining spots with skilled athletes. Competition for starting positions will be fierce, and Chicago should be able to weather any injury storm that may strike.
The loss of Schneider marked the squad’s biggest off-season setback. His departure will be felt most acutely in the doubles department, where he and Brinker had the team’s best record. The Maroons will also need a replacement for Vivek Venkataraman, last year’s sole senior. Venkataraman struggled at singles but coupled with then–first-year Steve Saltarelli to put up a 12–8 mark on the doubles court.
Without Venkataraman and Schneider, the squad’s top two doubles pairs have been sliced in half, and even with an influx of talent, the chemistry that contributed to success for these duos will be difficult to replace, and the fresh crop of players will likely take some time to adjust to collegiate doubles.
Who to watch: Will Zhang
Newcomer Will Zhang has already shown strong promise at continuing Chicago’s recent tradition of breakout first-years. The rookie, highly ranked in high school, picked up the Maroons’ only win in a season-opening 6–1 loss at Northwestern Sunday.
“That was one of Zhang’s biggest wins in his career,” Perry said, “and to do that in his first college match is pretty exciting. We’ve got a lot of hope that he’s going to have an exceptional career.”
Look to Brinker to continue his success, and Saltarelli’s experience at the tough first doubles slot in his rookie year will prove invaluable as he continues to take on the top job, now with the promising Bakhutashvili at his side.