[img id="80536" align="alignleft"] The season goal for all the Maroons is to capture a UAA banner. Four teams have taken the league’s top honor so far this year, and this weekend men’s tennis has its shot at a title.
In Atlanta for a three-day tournament, the Maroons (12–6) have just two matches under their belt since returning from their spring break trip to South Carolina.
The good news is that both contests were convincing home victories for 21st-ranked Chicago, with a 9–0 blanking of Lake Forest (15–5) on April 16 and a 7–2 triumph against Olivet Nazarene (12–2) Monday. With this pair of wins, the team wraps the regular season and goes into UAAs on a four-game winning streak.
That stretch gives the fourth-seeded Maroons some momentum for this weekend, and they’re going to need all the help they can get, with three other nationally ranked squads to knock off before they claim their first UAA championship in program history.
Carnegie Mellon takes the 16th spot with a 16–6 record, host Emory is seventh with a 12–6 mark, and Wash U tops the charts at second and 14–3 on the season.
With poor weather this spring keeping Chicago off the courts, the team has sought some alternative methods to stay at the top of its game both mentally and physically.
“We have been playing a lot of frisbee for cardio and Boggle for concentration purposes,” first-year Will Zhang said about preparing for this weekend.
The South Siders got their first test of the tournament this morning against fifth-seeded NYU (8–7). Although the Violets aren’t ranked, they came into today’s match riding their own wave of momentum, taking six of their last eight matches. If the games of frisbee and rounds of Boggle pay off and Chicago shuts down NYU, a showdown with the top-seeded Bears could be in the cards for tomorrow. The Maroons faced the Bears once before this season and suffered a 6–3 loss to their archrivals from St. Louis.
Wash U will be the team to watch this weekend as the most likely candidate to spoil the Eagles’ string of conference crowns. The definition of a powerhouse, Emory has claimed 18 straight titles and 19 of 20 overall. The higher ranked Bears will make a push to get past the second-place finish they’ve had to settle for 12 times.
Going all the way with this type of competition is a tall order for the Maroons. Improving on last year’s bronze would be a big achievement. They’ll lean on the second-year duo of Garrett Brinker and Steve Saltarelli, who look to build on their success at the tournament last year as rookies. Regionally 10th-ranked Zhang gives Chicago a new weapon on the court, and he’ll need to help set the tone at first singles.
Between the 2010 classmates and Zhang, the Maroons have the lineup depth that separates the good teams from UAA title contenders. The full team efforts in last week’s sweep of the Foresters and in Monday’s swamping of the Tigers show that the South Siders are hitting their peak from top to bottom at just the right time. Fourth-year Bharath Sithian and first-year Mark Bonner chipped in big time Monday together in partners play and solo. They combined for an 8–0 shutout at third doubles, and both took down opponents in straight sets in singles.
A few holes remain for Chicago to fill this weekend. Doing the small things right will give the squad a headstart as it hopes to be right in the middle of the action for top honors in the league.
“We still need to work on our racket spin to decide who serves first. That would really help our confidence and give us the momentum right away,” Zhang said. “We only won six out of the nine spins, so we want to work on that a little.”