February 27, 2014

Chicago hopes to take top spot at tourney

Two years ago, the No. 1–seeded Maroons finished fifth at the ITA Nationals. Last year, they finished third. And for the first time in several years, the Maroons enter this year’s tournament as the second seed.

This weekend, the Maroons travel to Greencastle, Indiana, home of the DePauw Tigers, who will be the first matchup in a three-day, three-match tournament.

“This is the second-most prestigious tournament of the year behind the NCAA Championships. This is a huge one to win,” head coach Jay Tee said.

Eight teams, picked based on preseason standings, conference regulations, and geographic location, are seeded and matched against each other by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association, a collegiate sports governing body separate from the NCAA.

Seeded behind the Johns Hopkins Bluejays, the No. 2–seeded Maroons will face the hosts first.

“As far as rivals go, I think DePauw would be the school most of the team would agree on. They’re historically very good, and we see them four to five times a year. We lost to them 4–5 two years ago and beat them 5–4 last year. They’re incredibly well-coached, and they compete very hard. Every time we get together it’s a great match,” Tee said. “As for Hopkins, we have our hands full with DePauw.”

Though the Tigers are seeded No. 7 in the upcoming tournament, they are ranked nationally as the No. 13 team. All eight teams participating in the tournament are ranked back-to-back, with the No. 7–ranked Bluejays leading the pack, one rank ahead of the No. 8–ranked Maroons. The eighth seed in the tournament is No.14 UC Santa Cruz.

The ITA Nationals tournament as a whole provides a highely competitive opportunity for the team to grow.

“Indoors is great because it prepares us or the stress of UAAs and NCAAs, but in a more controlled setting. We only play three matches at a time, rather than six, and it’s at a place that’s close to Chicago that we’re very familiar with,” Tee said. “We know that a lot of teams here think we’re down this year, but this is a good chance to come out fighting and show them that Chicago isn’t going anywhere.”

The emphasis on the opportunity for learning certainly held true for the Maroons last year. Prior to the ITA Nationals last year, the Maroons were 2–2. After the ITAs, the Maroons went 7–1 in non-tournament matches and 7–2 in tournament matches.

“That tournament was the turning point of the season. Afterwards, the team began to believe that we belong on the national stage, and I saw our practices and mentalities change. We’re obviously going into the tournament with the mindset to win, but more importantly we want to learn more about ourselves and the team,” Tee said.

The match against the DePauw Tigers kicks off at 2:30 p.m.