Editor’s Note: Liam Leddy is a Maroon Viewpoints editor.
It’s never too early to think about the NCAA National Championships.
Considering that the UAA is filled with nationally ranked teams including Wash U at No. 4, Emory at No. 6, Case at No. 13, and Carnegie Mellon at No. 19, the No. 30 Maroons will need to pull off several upsets in April’s UAA Championships to earn the automatic bid for the national tournament.
Thus, every non-conference match is important for Chicago’s hopes at an at-large bid to NCAAs, making those against No. 24 UW–Whitewater on Friday and No. 18 Gustavus Adolphus on Saturday two of the most important matches this season.
“If we want to break that drought of [not qualifying for] the NCAA tournament, we need to play well this weekend,” head coach Jay Tee said. “I think the guys know it’s important, and they’re going to come out with a sharper focus than they have in the past.”
The challenge will be even more difficult this weekend, as Chicago will be without two integral members of the team—Tee and third-year Ankur Bhargava.
Tee will travel with the women’s team for the ITA Division III Women's Team Indoor Championships, and Bhargava will be out of town. Local tennis professional and volunteer coach Richie Gray and an athletics facilities employee will travel with the men’s team.
“If we win, it’s going to be because we played well, we fought hard, and did all the right things; it’s not going to matter as much who the coach is there,” Tee said. “I know I’d like to think I make a difference, but a lot of times, it’s up to the guys at that point.”
Bhargava’s absence leaves a slight tweak in the singles lineup. First-year Sven Kranz, third-year Deepak Sabada, and first-year Brian Sun will continue to hold the top three spots, respectively. Fourth-year Zsolt Szabo, first-year Max Hawkins, and second-year Gordon Zhang will round out the lineup.
Although energy is going to be especially important in singles this weekend, against UIC several Maroons were visibly and audibly upset at their own unforced errors. Tee would rather see the Maroons exude confidence.
“If you miss a shot, are you projecting a negative energy that lets everyone in the building know exactly how you’re feeling at all times?” Tee said. “We’re trying to get away from that and away from the emotion, [from] thinking a point is so big that you’ve got to do something extra or something different.”
Tee has been working with the team on becoming more patient.
“I always tell the guys, ‘You don’t have to win every point.’ You can let the other guy lose some,” Tee said. “I think we get into the mentality sometimes that we need to hit a winner or force the other guy to miss every single time when, in reality, that other guy is just as nervous…When we miss within the first three balls, we’re not giving that other guy a chance to miss.”
In doubles, Kranz and Savada will hold the No. 1 spot while the second and third positions will feature Zhang with Hawkins and Sun with second-year Liam Leddy, respectively.
“[Leddy] expects to win, and I expect him to win too,” Tee said. “We think it’s a great matchup with him and Brian; Brian is a little low-key [while] Liam has a ton of energy and confidence. That’s one of the reasons they’re together, and that’s why the personality matchup works at No. 2 as well with Max and Gordon.”
Friday’s match against UW–Whitewater is scheduled for 6 p.m. in Janesville, Wisconsin, and Saturday’s match against Gustavus Adolphus is set for 3 p.m. in Milwaukee.