The University of Chicago men’s tennis team’s season came to an unexpected close this past Sunday, as the Maroons bowed out in the round of 16 in the NCAA Division III Championship.
The No. 6 team finished its campaign with an 18–5 record after reaching the NCAA postseason for the third straight season. Other notable achievements in the past year include earning third place in both the UAA Conference regular season and championship and beating 12 teams ranked in the top 40 nationally.
Hosted by Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN, the Maroons’ first match of the NCAA tournament resulted in a 5–1 victory over the No. 35 Coe College Kohawks in Saturday’s round of 32 battle. Because of their superior regular season performance and ranking, the South Siders were given a first-round bye, and they were tasked with facing a familiar foe in Coe College. Holding 9–0 and 8–1 team wins in two previous encounters this past year, the Maroons did not surprise anyone by routing the Kohawks in their third meeting.
Coe College came out aggressive and defeated Chicago at the No. 1 doubles slot 8–5 in the first match of the day. Coe was also in pole position to take No. 2 doubles with a 7–4 lead before the Maroon tandem of first-year Tyler Raclin and fourth-year Max Hawkins stormed back to claim the match in a 9–8 tiebreaker. Newly minted partners third-year Nicolas Chua and second-year Charlie Pei showed great chemistry, as they strolled to an 8–0 sweep of their opposition.
The South Siders kept the ball rolling into singles play, with first-year Erik Kerrigan dispatching his foe 6–0, 6–0 at the No. 2 slot. Third-year Luke Tsai finished next at No. 5, winning 6–3, 6–1, and first-year Ninan Kumar secured the fifth and final team point at No. 6 with a 6–1, 6–1 win to conclude the day’s play.
Advancing to the round of 16, Chicago faced a determined No. 21 Gustavus Adolphus team, and the Gusties played the matches of their lives. Sunday started out positively with the first-year duo of Kumar and Kerrigan taking the first match at No. 1 doubles.
However, the tables soon turned as No. 2 and No. 3 doubles went in favor of the hosting side. Through four singles matches, Gustavus Adolphus led the Maroons 4–3 in the overall score with the No. 4 and No. 2 games coming down to the line. Kumar bounced back from a difficult second set to even the team score by winning 6–2, 4–6, 6–3. With only the third set of second singles left to be played, the Gusties ultimately upset the Maroons in a heartbreaking 7–5 tiebreaker in the last set.
When asked about what the team could have done differently in the last game, third-year Peter Leung said, “We could have simply prepared better during the school ear and the rest of the season.”
Leung also reflected on the season, saying, “There is so much more that we are capable of. There needs to be some major changes to implement—I don’t know what that is yet, but when we should be national title contenders, and we get upset in the most important tournament of the year, something is clearly wrong with what we are doing.”
The team was stunned by the defeat, but a strong, experienced roster, featuring a first-year class that made an immediate impact this year, will certainly make the Maroons a title contender come next season. Preparation for next season will be in the motivated South Siders’ minds sooner rather than later.