The Maroons stormed the consolation bracket at the UAA Championships this weekend, just as their ranking predicted they would. Chicago, the fifth seed, placed fifth this past weekend with wins over Rochester (9–0) and Brandeis (7–2), but will likely end their season without a NCAA bid.
“Even though at the beginning of the tournament we aimed for much higher, this might also be seen as a small success for the team, as our overall match ratio was two wins [to] one loss,” second-year Zsolt Szabo said.
The Maroons went into the consolation quarterfinal mentally focused even without the prospect of a UAA Championship or NCAA bid to look forward to.
“The mentality going into consolations was good under the circumstances,” Szabo said. “Knowing that we will not by any miracle make NCAAs this year, we just wanted to get the highest possible position in UAAs and finish the season with some victories.”
Chicago looked like a championship team against Rochester.
In doubles, fourth-years Jan Stefanski and Troy Brinker along with second-years Zsolt Szabo and Krishna Ravella allowed only two games each to their opponents in the No. 1 and No. 3 spots, respectively. First-years Ankur Bhargava and Deepak Sabada won 8–4 at No. 2.
The surge did not stop there. Bhargava (6–2, 6–0), Stefanski (6–1, 6–0), Sabada (6–3, 6–0), and second-year Alex Golovin (6–2, 6–2) all allowed less than four games in each of their matches. Szabo won at the No. 5 spot 6–1, 7–5 while Brinker had a similar turnout (7–5, 6–2) at No. 1.
The commanding victory gave the Maroons extra momentum going into their fifth-place match against Brandeis.
“The 9–0 win against Rochester definitely gave us some extra momentum heading into the Brandeis match,” Ravella said. “Brandeis has a tough team, but going into the match with that extra confidence allowed us to get the win without much drama.”
Brinker and Stefanski along with Szabo and Ravella gave the Maroons the edge going into singles, each with 8–3 victories, while Bhargava and Sabada fell 8–4.
The Maroons took five out of six singles matches with the lone loss coming from a Stefanski three-set battle (2–6, 6–2, 6–0) to take fifth place.
“I believe I can speak collectively for the team to say that this season was not the most fortunate for us,” Szabo said.
However, at the same time, there were moments that showed signs of an up-and-coming team.
“There were a lot of ups—for example, we defeated UIC, a DI team we had not even come close to last year, and our spring break performance was pretty good too, particularly our match against Citadell, where the [first-years Bhargava and Sabada] definitely deserve a lot of credit in our eventual victory,” Szabo said.
Still, the defeats outweighed the victories.
“In any case, most of the time luck was not on our side, and we lost many matches that could have gone either way,” Szabo said. “This has sometimes broken our confidence and effort which often took long to rebuild.”
A hindrance to the Maroons next year will be the loss of fourth-years Stefanski and Brinker. The upperclassmen have shared the top two doubles positions for the past three years and have held some of the top singles spots as well.
“I think I can speak for the team that they will be greatly missed,” Szabo said. “Good luck for the two of them and us without them in the future.”
But the Maroons have a talented first-year class coming in. Jake Crawford and Gordon Zhang currently hold the best national ranks from the incoming tennis class. Crawford is ranked 20th in New York and 192nd overall according to the latest tennisrecruiting.net high school senior class rankings, while Zhang holds the 13th ranking in Illinois and is 193rd in the national rankings.
“I am really looking forward to the next year,” Szabo said, “getting to know the new freshmen and having another great season.”