For the first time since 1998, men's tennis left the UAAs on a high note.
After six years of last place finishes, the Maroons (18-9) locked up third place in the league with a 4-3 victory over Wash U (11-4) in Sunday's consolation round championship, keyed by a comeback win by fourth-year captain Jake Reckess. The women's team (13-8) came up short against Carnegie Mellon (15-4) in the third-place game, falling 6-3 but still earning their highest standing since 2001.
After losing the first set, Reckess was down three match points in the second before his coach inspired him to turn things around.
"I was down in the set, and I was afraid it was going to be my last match if I lost," Reckess said. "Coach Perry came over and challenged me to come back. [Chris Kuppler] gave me an opening."
The fourth-year went on to grab an early lead in the third set and held on to it for the victory.
"We were fortunate to have the match rest on the shoulders of Reckess, our only senior in the top six," Perry said. "Jake had been in this situation a few times this season and handles the pressure well."
The victory propelled the men to the seventh spot in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's Central Region rankings, clinching them a spot in the national tournament. The women rose to 13th, missing tourney qualification.
The fourth-seeded men opened up the weekend with a tight 4-3 victory over Carnegie, a team that had been ranked as high as 23rd in the nation, but ran into a brick wall in the semifinals against the national championship contending second-ranked Emory Eagles (17-2). The Atlanta team swept all six singles matches and took the doubles point for a 7-0 victory, sending Chicago to the third-place match. Both the Emory squads teams have finished atop the UAA every season of the league's 17-year history.
The team expected to face off against Rochester, but the third-seeded Yellowjackets came up with an upset win against the Bears in the other semifinal to advance to the title game, creating a Central Region showdown for third place.
Chicago was looking for revenge after losing the first meeting 5-2 on April 3, but few expected the Maroons to have much of a chance against the Bears, ranked 17th nationally. Chicago elevated its game and defeated Washington 4-3 to close out the tournament.
In doubles competition, third-year Ward Bortz and first-year Sasha Deriy took care of business against Bears' third-year Ari Rosenthal and first-year Charlie Howard 8-3 at first doubles, and Reckess and first-year Joseph Tchan won the doubles point for the Maroons against third-year William McMahan and fourth-year Shaul Yecheskel 8-3.
"The team was very confident going into the match on Sunday with Wash U," head coach Marty Perry said. "Winning doubles was key."
Bortz, ranked 14th in Div. III, led the way for the Maroons with a 6-4, 6-3 win over 21st-ranked Rosenthal, earning payback for a 6-4, 7-5 Rosenthal win earlier this season. Second-year Vivek Venkatarman held down third-year Eric Borden at third singles for Chicago, and Reckess clinched the win with a squeaker over Kuppler 5-7, 7-6, 6-2.
The third-place finish marks an astonishing turnaround for the program, which finished 7-16 last season.
"The win over Wash U was important for our program. It will give our players the confidence that they need to compete with and perform well against the best teams in the country," Perry said.
"I had a couple of friends on another team in the league who were questioning whether we deserved our spot after being down for so many years," Reckess said. "It was great to get those wins and show them we earned it."
Recruiting and leadership were the keys to the team's improvement.
"Last year we were fortunate to bring in some outstanding student-athletes, headlined by Ward. Four of our top six players this season are new to Chicago," Perry said. "Our captains, Reckess and Venkataraman, have been outstanding. Having a young team mandates that you have strong leadership from within the team. "
Coming into the UAA tournament, the women's tennis team had been on fire, winning their previous eight decisions. Their success had earned them the fourth seed at Brandeis, showing some improvement on the heels of a sixth-place finish in 2004.
The women punished Rochester (6-14) 8-1 in the first round, but drew the two-time defending NCAA champion Emory Eagles (13-3) in the semis. Emory lived up to the hype with a 9-0 victory, sending Chicago to the consolation game against third-seeded Carnegie.
Despite singles wins from third-year Annie Miller and fourth-year Christine Kim and a doubles victory from Miller and partner first-year Cassie Kramer, the Maroons fell to the Tartans 6-3.
"We had chances in our match with CMU, but came up a bit short," Perry said. "Our women made a huge step this year in their development, both individually and as a team."