Men’s Tennis: Wildcats’ NCAA hopes Kentucky-fried in Lexington

Brian Chappatta

No. 42 Northwestern’s early exit in the first round of the NCAA tournament put an anticlimactic end to an otherwise remarkable turnaround this season.

In their first NCAA appearance since 2005, the Wildcats were defeated by No. 18 Wake Forest 4-0. The Demon Deacons then upset the regional host, No. 11 Kentucky, 4-2 in the second round of the tournament.

NU had opportunities early on to steal the doubles point, but faltered down the stretch. The No. 3 doubles team of graduate student Alex Thams and sophomore Andrew McCarthy was up 6-5 and had two break point chances, but failed to capitalize and lost 8-6.

Senior Marc Dwyer and junior Alex Sanborn put up a fight against Wake Forest’s sixth-ranked doubles team of Steven Forman and Cory Parr at No. 1, but lost 8-5. Those two losses sealed the point for Wake Forest.

Despite the loss at doubles, freshman Tobias Reitz said the team still felt confident and thought it could compete with the Demon Deacons.

“The doubles were close, so we thought we definitely had a chance,” Reitz said. “We knew it was going to be really tough to win four singles after we lost the doubles point. We thought we had a higher chance of winning, but they were too good on that given day.”

The singles points were dominated by the top three spots of the Wake Forest lineup, which coach Arvid Swan said was the biggest strength of the Demon Deacons. Dwyer lost at No. 1 singles, 6-0, 6-1, followed by a Thams defeat at No 2., 6-1, 6-4. Reitz lost at No. 3 singles, 6-2, 6-3, to clinch the match for the Demon Deacons.

The loss aside, Sanborn said the team thought it played well overall and was able to compete with an elite team like Wake Forest.

“It was a close match,” Sanborn said. “We played really well. Even though we lost, it was probably a good way to end the season.”

The season ended with the Cats meeting every one of the high goals they set for themselves at the beginning of the season. They turned around their conference record from 0-10 to above .500, finished in the top half of the conference standings and made the NCAA tournament.

When it comes to setting goals for the team, Swan said he makes sure they are within grasp, provided the team works hard.

“I try to set realistic goals for our program,” Swan said. “That’s really important, so that the kids can see that they are obtainable goals but it is going to be tough to reach them.”

Next season is going to bring similar challenges as this season, particularly dealing with a youthful roster. Swan has four freshmen recruits coming in next year, compiling one of the top recruiting classes in the nation.

“It’s not going to be easy next year,” Swan said. “Our team is really young, and our schedule is going to be much more difficult too. The focus is going to be again on getting quality wins, getting wins that help make the tournament and getting as high of a national ranking as possible.”

Despite the influx of fresh talent next season, the team will also lose three players to graduation, including Dwyer and Thams, who play No. 1 and No. 2 singles, respectively. Sanborn said he expects more competition within the team during practices and the offseason, to get to play in those positions come next season.

Sanborn said the team is focused on progress, and if the Cats can continue to improve like they did from last year to this year, they will have even better results in the future.

“We placed a good foundation to keep moving forward,” Sanborn said. “Chris (Drake) and Arvid have done a great job this season in helping us improve. It’s helped our freshmen out a lot, and they know what to expect in the future. We can only go up from here.”

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